FAIRFIELD — It’s been rebuilt and people are coming.

Madelaine Baum was the first. On Monday, she showed up at the renovated Gerald Hotel with 62 boxes of her personal belongs, one of the first people in decades to live in the historic building.

Baum, a former employee of Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan, said her home in that town was getting too expensive and to be too much work.

She appreciates both the modern conveniences of the Gerald such as the wireless Internet access for her home computer, as well as the historical features, such as the molded woodwork and the stained glass in the common areas, which is now known as the Gerald Senior Residence.

“It’s a lovely historic building,” she said.

After years of planning and construction, workers are still putting the final touches on the $6.5 million building renovation. Baum and her fourth-floor neighbor are its first tenants.

More will follow soon, according to Meg Varney, an occupancy specialist with property managers C&C Realty.

The next order of business for Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, the new owner, is ensuring that the building is fully occupied by May 1. If the building’s 28 units are not filled by then, the project will lose much of its funding, which came in the form of state and federal tax credits.

Some of the tax credits were leveraged because the project accomplishes the twin goals of preserving a historic building and providing housing to low-income seniors. If the building remained vacant, the tax credits would have to be repaid.

“We definitely want to get people in as soon as possible,” Varney said.

So far, the signs are good. Over the past year, the community action program has kept a waiting list of people interested in moving in, and Varney said she expects half of the units to be occupied within a few weeks.

While only a few tenants have received final approval, about a dozen more are expected to move in within the next week or two.

She said C&C is advertising the open rentals with signs, fliers and display advertisements in area publications.

The 14 applications that have been approved or are nearing approval are a fraction of the total received, Varney said. Many applicants were screened out early in the process, often because they either mistakenly think that the housing is subsidized, or because they make too much money to qualify.

In order to qualify, most tenants must be 55 years or older and have an annual income of at least $15,000 but no more than $22,380. A two-person household must have a combined income of no more than $25,560.

Varney said applicants are drawn to the building for different reasons. Some value the downtown location, which allows easy walking access to the post office, town office, restaurants and shopping options, she said, while others are drawn to the fairly low rent.

Depending on the income of the tenant, the rent is either $500 or $600 in the one-bedroom units, and $600 or $700 on the two-bedroom units, rates that include heat, hot water and electricity.

A piece of history

Varney said nearly all of the prospective tenants are excited by the chance to live in a piece of history.

“A lot of them remember the Gerald when it was open as a hotel,” she said. “During the showings, people see that the building’s absolutely gorgeous.”

The hotel, built by Amos F. Gerald in 1900 for affluent tourists, hasn’t functioned as a residence since 1937. It was most recently occupied by the Northern Mattress and Furniture Gallery, which closed in 2006.

Workers from Sheridan Corporation, a Fairfield-based contractor, have been adding final touches, such as installing clothes washers and dryers in the laundry room, baseboards along the hallway, and furniture in some of the other common areas.

Baum, 79, moved in Monday and by the end of the week had almost unpacked all of her 62 boxes.

She learned about the new living opportunity over the summer, when she read an article about it in the Morning Sentinel.

“I was still working at the time, so I thought this would be my chance to retire and have a nice place to live,” she said.

She liked her Skowhegan home, she said, but it was too expensive, and had too much upkeep.

“The mowing and the plowing and the shoveling and the furnace repair and the electric bills and the heating bills,” she said. “That’s all provided here at this wonderful place. And I’m so happy that I have my own thermostat.”

Baum said the application process was lengthy, taking more than a month, but that the staff at the realty company have been helpful in guiding her through it.

Baum said she was also drawn to the idea of living among people closer to her age, rather than younger families. She has already developed a friendly relationship with her new neighbor.

“I’m going to invite her to a harvest supper this weekend,” she said.

Serves a need

Suzanne Walsh, chief operating officer of Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, said she thinks the opening of the hotel will trigger a fresh wave of applicants.

“Some people have held back because they want to see the finished project,” she said.

The reason the project was initiated in the first place is because it serves a need for affordable senior housing, Walsh said, and so she is confident the building will fill quickly.

“I don’t think it will be an issue,” Walsh said. “Housing, and affordable quality housing is always a need.”

In addition to the typical amenities of an apartment building, the Gerald will have added ongoing support from C&C.

The company will have a staff person on-site on a daily basis, to address any concerns and to coordinate activities for residents, Walsh said.

Topics and activity subjects will depend on what the residents want, and what world changes might be particularly relevant to them.

“The health care act, that would be a perfect example, bringing in a presenter who could talk about health care options,” she said. Other topics might be more fun, or active, such as a yoga class, she said.

Baum said she is looking forward to it, and had no shortage of ideas.

“I would hope they would have some exercise equipment and I would hope they would have a craft class and I would hope they would have a library,” she said.

Walsh said she would like the events in the Gerald to be open to the general public, but that limited space might be a consideration in some cases.

There is still significant construction activity in the hotel’s former lobby, which will be transformed into a commercial space. Walsh said the space would probably be leased out, but she wants to identify a business that will be of interest to the building’s tenants.

“We’ve thrown out ideas of a coffee shop or some kind of cafe,” she said. She said the business would be something to complement, not compete with, existing Main Street businesses.

While tenants began moving in Monday, the change will be marked by an official grand opening which is tentatively scheduled for December.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287 [email protected]

Twitter: @hh_matt

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