AUGUSTA — John McCatherin of the Cony High School Class of 1958 smiled broadly as he walked into Alumni Hall, the auditorium of the old Cony flatiron building on Augusta’s east side.

Renovations to the performing arts space where he and his classmates took the stage decades ago are well underway.

“Those of us who grew up on this stage, who put on Chizzle Wizzle here, are very excited about the possibilities,” said McCatherin, who was involved in the high school’s annual variety show. “They’re doing quite a fantastic job. The care and restoration going into it is very pleasing.”

McCatherin was one of many members of his class to tour the building on Wednesday while renovations turn it into one- and two-bedroom apartments for people 55 and older.

When the curtain rises on the $11 million in renovations, the auditorium and its stage will remain, fulfilling a goal of many Cony alumni that it be preserved as a performing arts space. And thanks to Cony alumni who donated money, the actual curtain for the stage will look like the one that opened for their performances decades ago.

The Cony Alumni Association raised $23,500, which members donated Wednesday to help pay for a new curtain created for the stage. It will be designed to match the original curtain there in Cony red with the old Cony logo, CHS, emblazoned in the middle.

Nancy Merrick, also a 1958 Cony graduate, said the curtain is expected to cost as much as $30,000, and the alumni organization may have to raise more money to cover the entire cost.

She, too, is impressed with how the old school is being transformed into 48 apartments by contractors working for developer Housing Initiatives of New England, and how the auditorium is being preserved and restored as a performing arts space among other planned uses for it.

“This was our goal, to save the auditorium, and that is what is happening,” Merrick said.

Cynthia Taylor, president of Housing Initiatives of New England, who also developed the Inn at City Hall senior housing in the former City Hall building on Bridge Street, said work is coming along and under budget, and construction is expected to be complete June 1.

Wednesday was the first day applications to live in the apartments were available.

Residents should be able to move in sometime between mid-June and mid-July. But first, Taylor noted, they need to apply to live there. Those who meet income guidelines will be able to choose their own apartments, first come, first served. And because they were fitted into an existing building, not all the apartments are the same, but come in a range of sizes and shapes.

Roughly 75 people are on Taylor’s list of those who expressed interest in living there. But as of early Wednesday afternoon, no one had yet committed, thus first pick of the available apartments was still available.

“The field is open, as of this moment,” Taylor said of the application process. People over the age of 55 who wish to inquire about living in the flatiron may contact Stewart Property Management at 622-2666, or go online to www.conyflatironapartments.com.

When not in use for the performing arts, the auditorium, which will have cabaret-style tables and chairs, will be shared community space for residents of the building, re-dubbed Cony Flatiron Senior Residence.

Taylor said residents can gather there for potluck dinners, to play cards and other games, watch movies or just to sit and talk with their neighbors.

Taylor said without the donation from the alumni association, the curtain likely would not have been recreated.

Residents will also be free to use the stage to put on their own performances. Taylor hopes residents will form their own glee club to use the space.

The auditorium will also be available to groups to put on events that could include dance recitals, elementary school plays, and performances by choruses or string quartets.

Taylor said groups would need to be invited to use the space, as it won’t be wide open to the public, to respect the privacy of the residents who will live there. But she said if, say, an elementary school wants to put on a play there, students could be invited to perform there, and their parents and others who would make up the audience could be invited to come watch.

Initially, there will likely be seating for around 90 people in the auditorium.

The balcony of the auditorium won’t be open to the public, Taylor said, because there is only one exit and state law requires two means of egress.

McCatherin said he’d like someday to see the balcony upgraded so the public could use it again. He said he could see the spot as a 200-300 seat performing arts space potentially.

Other alumni who toured the building were similarly impressed with what they saw, though no one in the small group that toured the space Wednesday said they plan to live there themselves, at least not yet.

“It has worked out good,” David Hassen said. “It’s a wonderful old building.”

Fellow alum Jean Gallant said the auditorium was named Alumni Hall because when it was first built, from 1926 to 1930, there wasn’t enough money left in the budget to build the auditorium. So alumni raised the money needed. Two plaques, both covered up to protect them from the dust and debris flying around during renovations, are on opposite sides of the auditorium listing the names of alumni who donated.

An elevator will provide access to the auditorium without requiring attendees to go through the rest of the building, providing privacy to residents, Taylor noted.

The old building’s wooden floors, high ceilings and many other older features were retained in the renovations by Ledgewood Construction, the main contractor of the job. Some of the old classroom doors were also retained, though they are pretty much doors to nowhere, as the doors to the apartments are new. Behind the old doors are new walls.

Huge windows, many of them topped with arches, offer views of the State House, while others overlook the Kennebec River and busy Cony Circle below.

Marthalie Furber, also a class of ’58 member, said the views from the upper floors are especially spectacular.

A Hannaford supermarket is next door, built on land that was once home to a newer portion of the high school, which was demolished after the school closed when a new Cony High School opened in 2006.

Rents will range from $535 to $640 for a one bedroom and $650 to $780 for a two-bedroom unit. It will be open to individuals 55 and older and have a maximum income limit.

The building is still technically owned by the city. Housing Initiatives of New England has a $1 a year, 49-year lease giving it control of the building.

City officials noted the city was spending about $75,000 a year to heat and maintain the former school, and the city tried multiple times to seek redevelopment proposals for it until Taylor stepped forward to develop it as affordable senior housing.

About half the $11 million project is funded with tax credits from the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program awarded to the project by the Maine State Housing Authority in 2013. It also received state and federal historic preservation tax credits.

Wednesday construction work was prevalent with saws buzzing, contractors taping drywall, painters applying final coats, and an excavator outside ripping pavement out of part of the parking lot.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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