AUGUSTA — City councilors approved two items Thursday meant to help the Augusta Housing Authority improve the quality and availability of rental housing in the city.

Councilors voted to support a proposal to seek to have the former Hodgkins school placed on the National Register of Historic Places, which would allow the housing authority to seek federal and state historic preservation tax credits in its plan to convert the former middle school into low-income housing for senior citizens.

Councilors also voted to authorize City Manager William Bridgeo to apply for $500,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds to allow the Augusta Housing Authority to make smaller grants to local landlords to help them renovate and address code issues in their rental properties.

Both actions are meant to help improve and increase rental housing available in Augusta where over the last two years more than 100 rental units have been lost to fires or have been ordered vacated by the city because of code issues, according to Amanda Bartlett, executive director of the quasi-municipal Augusta Housing Authority.

Councilors voted unanimously to authorize a resolve to show the city supports the nomination of the Ella R. Hodgkins School to the National Register of Historic Places.

The 57-year-old building needs to be on the registry so the housing authority, which proposes to convert it into senior housing, can obtain state and federal historic preservation tax credits for the project.

Those tax credits could cover about $3.4 million of the estimated $8.7 million cost of turning the building’s classrooms and other space into apartments.

Bartlett said the money the tax credits bring is such a key piece of the project it won’t happen without it.

The former Hodgkins school, Bartlett said, was built in 1958, the third school built in the city as part of a decade-long effort to update and consolidate schools to educate the post World War II baby boom. It remains the most intact, architecturally significant local example of what, in its day, was a modern, mid-century school building encompassing the most recent trends in design and construction.

Bartlett said buildings must be at least 50 years old to be eligible for the registry. She said Hodgkins should qualify both because it is old enough and because it is historically significant.

“Even though it was only built in 1958 it does have historical attributes,” Bartlett said. “It was part of a large plan to build new schools in the community to accommodate the influx of baby boomers. Hodgkins is largely intact, and we hope to bring back a lot of the features absent now, to bring it back to original appearance.”

The resolve approved by councilors Thursday will be forwarded to the state Historic Preservation Commission, which Bartlett said is meeting later this month to vote on whether to nominate the building for inclusion in the registry. She said preservation officials like to know whether the community and the building owner support such nominations before they take action.

Bartlett said the authority, as part of the project, hired a historical consultant to review the building. The consultant indicated the building would be eligible for the register.

The resolve states Hodgkins was the second “intermediate” school built in Augusta as part of a master plan to accommodate the baby boomers “and as a result represents the conclusion of an effort to create modern elementary school buildings to meet the needs of Augusta’s increasing population as post-war baby boomers reached school age.”

The school construction plan started with the construction of Hussey Elementary School in 1954, moved on to the former Buker Middle School in 1956, and was completed with a large addition, since demolished, to the former Cony High School in 1964.

Bartlett said the authority and its developer partner hope to close on the construction loan for the project in June and have the building renovated into housing and ready to open in spring 2016.

Councilors also unanimously approved authorizing Bridgeo to apply for the $500,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds, which would be applied for by the city but overseen by the housing authority.

The money would be used to provide grants of less than $25,000 per building to landlords to help them fix up their rental buildings in Augusta. The grants would require landlords to also put their own money into their buildings to be eligible. Bartlett said projects fixing safety code issues would get priority, but other capital improvement projects to buildings would also be considered for the grants.

She said the application for the “Great Neighborhoods” grant program is due May 1.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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