AUGUSTA — The interior brick walls of the dining room at the Inn at City Hall signify the earlier life of the 115-year-old building, when it was the center of city government and administration as well as police headquarters.

It took almost $5 million and a small army of organizations and government programs to transform the three-story, red-brick, riverside building into 31 individual apartments for people who need assistance with daily living.

Residents, their families, staff and those who worked on the project celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the opening of the inn Thursday by reminiscing about the building’s history, the rehabilitation project, the people who worked there and those who live there.

The 115-year-old building at Willow and Cony streets, which was essentially gutted during the project, has all new mechanical systems, floors raised above the 100-year flood plain and spectacular views.

The project earned certification as meeting National Park Service standards for historic preservation.

Names of all those who have lived at the Inn at City Hall were written on a board outside the dining hall, not far from an alcove where three walkers were temporarily stored.

Peggy Sanford, 87, formerly of Manchester, lives in a third-floor apartment with a view of the Kennebec River, just one floor above the office where she spent 15 years as a public health nurse.

City offices moved to City Center across Cony Street in 1987, leaving behind the police department in the cavernous building that was drafty, bat-ridden, spider-infested and flood-prone.

So when she first learned that the building was to be restored, she was frankly surprised.

Now, she’s thoroughly pleased with the apartment she’s occupied for 2 1/2 years and the services provided, which include daily meals served in the dining room.

“There’s a nice dinner at noon and then supper,” she said. “I’ve got a stove in my apartment and have yet to turn it on. I don’t cook.”

Her friend, Dot Merrick, also 87, is a seven-year resident. An Augusta native, she had been living in Portland when she decided to relocate near her brother, Ben Merrick, who also worked out of that building when he spent 10 years as a police officer in Augusta.

The city still owns the building and leases it to Housing Initiatives of New England for $1 a year for 99 years.

And at the 10th anniversary celebration, musician John Finnegan reminded the audience that old city hall bears the distinction of hosting, in 1897, the first performance by John Philip Sousa of “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

The renovation resulted from the vision of developer Cyndy Taylor, president of that nonprofit group which has been creating housing for 21 years for the elderly and people who need assistance with daily living.

Funding came from the Maine State Housing Authority, Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston. MaineGeneral Rehabilitation and Nursing Care staff provide medical oversight.

“This project remains in my 35-year year career one of the strongest examples of creativity on the part of the developer and cooperation from a significant number of funding agencies to pull it together,” said Augusta City Manager William Bridgeo. “It was just a wonderful project.”

Taylor herself recalled the efforts to start it. “It took five years and five application to Maine State Housing,” she said. The closing on the property itself took three days. “There were 129 documents, and they all had to be read.”

She said she could not reproduce the project today. “There are no more funds available,” Taylor said.

She looked around through the dining room doors at the residents, some seated alongside their family members.

“This is the most effective way to service these people.” she said. “It’s economic for them, for us and for MaineGeneral.”

Taylor, whose company is completing a 141-unit project in New Hampshire, would like to do more in the area and said the demand is increasing and waiting lists growing.

There no room at either the Inn at City Hall and the adjacent 67-unit Kennebec Plaza, designed for people who can live independently, which is also owned by Housing Initiatives of New England.

Taylor said Kennebec Plaza received a $2.2 million renovation last year to make it completely green. That was through the Maine Green Energy Program of the Maine State Housing Authority.

The Inn at City Hall, she said, will get an update next spring.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]


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