AUGUSTA — Construction started this week to convert the former Hodgkins Middle School into senior housing.

Amanda Bartlett, executive director of the Augusta Housing Authority, said subcontractors were on the site Monday to start demolition and abatement work. A brief groundbreaking ceremony and open house is planned for Wednesday, and the 47 apartments to be created within the old school are expected to be ready for occupancy by the fall of 2016.

As construction starts at Hodgkins, the nearby former Cony flatiron building, where a conversion into senior housing was completed in July, has nearly filled up with tenants. Just three vacancies are expected to remain by the end of the month.

Bartlett said the rapid pace at which the flatiron is filling up shows the need for affordable housing in general, and housing for the senior population in particular.

“There is a shortage of safe affordable housing in the community and, for the senior population in particular, there is really a lack of housing not only in Augusta, but statewide,” she said.

The Cony Flatiron Senior Residence has 48 one and two-bedroom apartments.

She said a recent survey showed there are more than 9,000 senior citizens in Maine on waiting lists for affordable apartments.

Jennifer Boardman, occupancy manager for Stewart Property Management, who is overseeing the leasing of units at the Cony Flatiron Senior Residence, said that facility will be down to three vacancies by the end of the month, and will “definitely be full by the end of October.”

The two projects have similar target audiences, residences 55 or older who meet income restrictions. To live at Hodgkins, residents must have income of less than 60 percent of the area median income. For an individual, that’s less than about $26,000 a year.

The housing authority closed on its construction loan for the $8.7 million project last week.

“It’s really exciting, it has taken a long time to get to this place,” Bartlett said of construction finally starting after a delay in the construction loan closing process. “We’re ecstatic to be finally doing work and we’re ready to build some housing.”

The project is being paid for with a combination of the construction loan and state and federal historic and low income housing tax credits. Historic tax credits, which the building became eligible for when it was added to the National Register of Historic Places July 14, by the National Park Service, are expected to provide about $3.4 million.

Closing on the loan was delayed when the National Park Service rejected initial plans to insulate the inside of the many glass-block walls that make up some of the exterior of the building. The park service said that would have been too much of a visible change to the historic structure.

Bartlett said the goal of insulating the interior side of the glass blocks was to increase the R-value of the glass blocks and make heating the building more efficient.

A compromise was reached in which some of the glass blocks will be insulated on the interior side, and some will be left exposed.

Other interior changes to the building are meant to help restore it to its original appearance. Those include removing the dropped ceiling and restoring the ceilings back to their original, higher, heights. Plans also call for skylights, similar to the one left remaining inside the lobby, to be put back in to restore more of the original appearance of the building.

The school will be converted into 47 units total — eight efficiencies and 39 one-bedroom units.

Eight of the apartments will be in what is now the gymnasium, which will be divided into two stories, with four apartments on each.

The four upstairs apartments in the gym will be the only units that will require the use of stairs. All other units, Bartlett said, will be fully accessible by people with disabilities.

C and C Realty Management, of Augusta, will handle the leasing of the building, and Portland Builders is the general contractor on the job.

People who want to take a last look at the inside of the Malta Street building while it is still largely setup like a school have one last chance from 4-6 p.m. Wednesday at a groundbreaking and open house.

“It’s an opportunity to have one last look at the school, as a school, and take pictures,” Bartlett said.

Bartlett said the renovated building will have display space in corridors, at least some of which she hopes to fill with Hodgkins memorabilia. She said anyone with Hodgkins memorabilia such as shirts, photographs or “anything that might help people reflect on the history of the school,” that they are willing to contribute for display in the school, may contact her office or bring the items to the groundbreaking event.

People who wish to express interest in renting an apartment at Hodgkins may also call the authority, to be put on a list of potential tenants.

Augusta Housing may be reached at 626-2357.

Kevin Bunker, of Developers Collaborative, worked with Bartlett on the project, which is the Augusta Housing Authority’s first-ever housing development project.

Bartlett said the construction manager on the project reached out to local subcontractors in an effort to have work on the project done by local workers. Of the 21 subcontracting firms working on the job, nine are from the Augusta area and almost all of the subcontractors are based in Maine, she said.

Hodgkins closed as a school at the end of the 2009 school year, and has been vacant since.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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