AUGUSTA — Tom Wells, an English teacher at Cony High School, said he remembers holding wrestling practices on the auditorium stage of the old high school flatiron building.

The auditorium is now a construction site, with temporary plywood flooring and two apartments being built under the balcony in the back of the room.

Wells, along with more than a dozen city of Augusta employees, councilors and other community members, took a tour Friday morning to see the progress at the building that served as a school for 76 years and is on its way to becoming a 48-unit apartment building for senior citizens.

“I love that fact that it’s being used,” Wells said of the former school building. “It’s obviously steeped in history, but it has a great deal of sentimental value to all the educators in Augusta who were down here. Many of us are still around.”

Wells said he was sad to see the other former Cony High School building, the adjacent one built in 1965, torn down to make way for the Hannaford supermarket that opened there in 2009, but he’s pleased with the new use for the flatiron building, which opened in 1930.

The auditorium, without all of its chairs, looked bigger than before, Wells said. But other parts of the building looked smaller now that they’ve been divided into rooms for the mostly one-bedroom apartment units, he said. The former chorus room, which looked out on Cony Circle, is becoming an apartment with a wraparound view of the Kennebec River and the State House.

“There’s going to be some serious fighting for that front apartment,” Wells said.

The former school building has been under renovation since July, shortly after the city agreed to lease it to the developer of the senior housing project for $1 for 49 years. The deal that essentially handed off the building to Housing Initiatives of New England Corp. will save the city $75,000 a year in heating and maintenance costs and fill a prominent building that’s been vacant since the new Cony High School opened in 2006.

Cynthia Taylor, the corporation’s president, said the building is expected to open to tenants at the start of June next year, but the nonprofit organization already is accepting applications for the apartments. Tenants will be choosing their units based on when they applied, Taylor said.

“I think there are a lot of people who have just been sort of watching the progress,” she said.

The organization also redeveloped Augusta’s former city hall in 2000 into 31 assisted-living apartments at the Inn at City Hall.

Taylor, who led the tour Friday, said she thinks the restoration of the flatiron building’s auditorium will be spectacular. The stage and auditorium floor will be sanded and refinished, and historical woodwork will be added back to the front of the stage, she said.

Taylor envisions the space being used by a chorus group or dance recitals or for movie nights for the tenants. Most of the time it will be used as a communal space for the apartments, but Taylor said she would like to let small community groups use it occasionally.

Part of the work being done is for historic rehabilitation of the building, Taylor said, because the project got state and federal historic preservation tax credits.

“It takes those kinds of funds to really be able to afford to bring back these wonderful states,” she said, referring to the building’s original features, and restore them to “the gems that they are.”

About half of the $11 million project is being funded with tax credits from federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program awarded by the Maine State Housing Authority last year. The project also received a Community Development Block Grant and grant money from the Federal Home Loan bank of San Francisco.

The city is returning 100 percent of the property taxes to the developer as part of a tax increment financing deal because the nonprofit organization had to create a for-profit entity to be eligible for the other tax credits. The city wouldn’t receive any property taxes on the building if it was developed by a nonprofit organization.

Along with a cafe and yoga room for residents, the developer is adding a patio and gardens on the back side of the building. An addition to the main entrance is being built on the back side as well. The garden will have apple and pear trees and benches for residents, Taylor said.

“I think it will have a very different look to it when it’s all finished,” she said.

Wells, who has taught at Cony High School for 38 years, said he was also glad to see the developer keep the main stairwell – stairs Wells used to make the wrestling team run up and down, he said.

“It seems like they’ve maintained the integrity of the building,” Wells said. “That was nice to see as well.”

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @paul_koenig


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