As Alan Sawyer Sr. unloaded his belongings into his new apartment, he said he was lucky to land an opening at Farmington’s new senior housing project.

For 46 years, Sawyer had been living in a cabin in Wilton, but said that with his 86th birthday approaching in September, it was time to make the switch to senior housing.

“It’s handy. It’s new. It’s got the latest technology,” he said.

Sawyer is one of 32 residents moving into Brookside Village Apartments over the next few weeks. The independent living residence, which opened last week, is for people with low incomes who have disabilities or are 62 and older. All of its units are spoken for, with a short waiting list of hopefuls in case any of the tenants back out.

The housing project is one of the first new housing projects in town in decades to address the needs of the town’s aging population. In Franklin County, 17.2 percent of the population is 65 or older, according to census data, and the number is expected to grow as members of the baby boom generation reach retirement age.

A special report by the Portland Press Herald found an increasing number of Maine seniors are finding themselves living in large unaccommodating homes with inefficient heating and structural decay.

During the last seven years, the Maine Housing Authority, which helped fund Brookside, also helped to fund an average of 134 subsidized senior housing units completed each year, hardlyl making a dent in the estimated 8,000 additional units Maine will need by 2015.

The plan for the apartment building to be energy independent earned it the highest score out of applicants from across the country applying for a U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Program grant. The program is subsidizing the project with a $1 million rural rental housing loan and will provide ongoing rental assistance to future residents, who don’t pay more than a third of their income in rent under the program.

Developers Buzz Davis of Riverbend Property Management and Bill Marceau, of Foothills Management, headed the $3.2 million project at 247 Fairbanks Road. The building stands on the site of an old wood turning mill that developers cleaned up in order to build on the land.

Eventually, Davis said the two hope to further develop the land with condominiums to the rear of the property.

The project will not provide home care, but is built to be accommodating for residents in wheelchairs. The 600-square-foot one-bedroom apartments were built with an open floor plan. In four of the rooms, the counter tops are two inches lower — 34 inches from the ground — so they can be reached by someone in a wheelchair. A space was left under part of the counter so it could be used as a workstation by someone sitting in a wheelchair, and space was left underneath the sinks for the same reason.

“Everything was built with accessibility in mind,” said Davis.

He said if residents want to have in home care, they can work with an outside agency and the apartments are set up to accommodate the service.

While the apartments are hooked to Central Maine Power, it is considered net-zero because in the summer it will produce more energy than it needs and then in the winter might use more energy than it produces.

The building’s electricity is powered by 227 solar panels that cover the roof of the apartments, and 15 ground-source heat pumps that use the constant temperature of the earth below the surface to heat and cool air that is circulated throuhout the building.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252

[email protected]

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