WATERVILLE — Jean Sidmore never thought her life would be happy again after her husband died in 2009.

She was living in New Hampshire and was devastated by the loss. Her sisters from Maine went down, packed her things and brought her home to Waterville where she previously had lived and worked as a cook.

Meanwhile, Sidmore underwent 14 surgeries on a bad knee and was in a wheelchair for 15 months. She lived with a sister who took care of her, but last spring she and her sisters decided it would be good for her to have her own place and live independently.

They saw a sign about new apartments being developed by Brown House Properties in the former Goudreau’s Retirement Inn at 110 College Ave. Sidmore called and she and her sisters checked out an apartment there. It was a one-bedroom unit with a large living room, cozy kitchen, walk-in closet, door to a common, carpeted hallway, as well as a door to the outside, where tenants have parking spaces next to their private doors.

Everything was included in the monthly rent, including laundry facilities, wireless internet, heat, lights, hot water, sewer, trash disposal and maintenance, which Sidmore saw as a plus. There are comfortable common rooms in the building, which is all on one floor, as well as sitting areas outside, a 2-acre green area where people may walk their dogs, and a 6-acre wooded lot at the rear of the building that offers the sounds of birds chirping and a serene environment.

“We were flabbergasted with the apartment,” Sidmore, 66, recalled. “I was the first one to move in at the end of March. I’m so blessed to be here — I can’t tell you.”

Sidmore was one of about 40 people who turned out Tuesday for a ribbon cutting at Brown House Commons, where Kimberly N. Lindlof, president and chief executive officer of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, hosted a ribbon cutting.

Sherwood Booker, left, and Lindsey Booker-Burrill are shown in a model unit Tuesday at the Brown House Commons at 110 College Ave. in Waterville. The pair, along with their family, own the property. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson

Brown House Properties owners Sherwood Booker and his wife, Laurie, their daughters Shannon and Lindsey Booker-Burrill and Lindsey’s husband, Chris, were on hand for the event, as were family members, friends and representatives of Delta Ambulance Service.

Sherwood Booker explained that Brown House bought the property and 22,000-square-foot building about two years ago. It had been vacant a couple of years after the former Goudreau’s Retirement Inn closed. In the 1940s and ’50s, it had been the Roosevelt Motor Lodge and later the Colonial Manor Nursing Home.

“Our family recognized a need within the community for independent senior housing and quickly seized an opportunity to acquire this wonderful building,” Booker said in a speech at the ribbon cutting. “We hit the ground running, repositioning this 47-room nursing home into a 27-unit, independent senior living facility.”

Fifteen units have been completed and are mostly occupied, and seven more are under construction in a part of the building closest to College Avenue that is closed off to the finished part. Brown House takes care of plowing, shoveling, sanding and mowing.

Booker said the family was mindful of the environment during renovations, reusing quality materials to decrease waste and employing alternative energy solutions.

“This summer, Brown House Commons committed to the green initiative,” he said. “We installed a 60-kilowatt solar farm on the south side of the roof which features 180 panels and will produce 73,000 kilowatt hours of clean, renewable electricity annually. The system alone will offset roughly 80,000 pounds of carbon pollution every year. Our company has been so satisfied with our commitment to the green initiative, we are in the process of installing a like-size solar farm at another location.”

Laurie Booker said the family is particularly happy about the solar initiative.

“We’re very proud of that,” she said.

The exterior of Brown House Commons at 110 College Ave. in Waterville Tuesday. The apartment complex is for people 55 and over. In the 1940s and ’50s, the building had been the Roosevelt Motor Lodge and later the Colonial Manor Nursing Home. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson

Brown House owns more than 300 rental properties in eight communities including Waterville, Fairfield and Clinton. It also owns Loon Ridge Camps in Belgrade. Sherwood and Laurie Booker founded the company in 1979 when they bought a four-unit building, moved in themselves and brought their first child home from the hospital.

“Those were tough times — fun times though,” Booker said. “We put everything we had into this business. Just starting out with nothing to our names but a lot of ambition seemed like a gamble to some, but we knew that with lots of hard work and dedication, we would grow a successful company.”

In the early 2000s when the company became incorporated, the family named it “Brown House” to be a constant reminder of their roots, he said. He recalled buying a discounted pallet of paint from Marden’s Surplus & Salvage in the early 1980s that was an undesirable color — dark brown. He had a handful of buildings that needed painting and when money was tight, he couldn’t be picky about color.

“So, these buildings all ended up being painted dark brown, including the single-family home my wife and I lived in and where we raised our family,” he said. “We still own that house and it is dark brown to this day. The meaning behind our name pays tribute to our humble beginnings and honors our growth.”

Brown House’s offices and warehouse for materials and equipment are off First Rangeway.

 

FILLING A HOUSING NEED

Lindlof, the chamber president, said Brown House is filling a great need by investing in housing for people 55 and older.

“Where housing remains one of the number one concerns in the mid-Maine region, we’re thrilled that Brown House Properties has continued to grow with the region, providing a variety of housing options to different demographics in the area,” she said.

The Booker family, headed up by Sherwood Booker, right, were on hand for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Bown House Commons, a 27-unit complex for people over 55. Fifteen units have been completed. Morning Sentinel photo by Amy Calder

The Booker family started working on the old nursing home in June 2017, creating one-bedroom apartments that rent for between $895 to $950 a month and two-bedroom units that are $1,150 a month. The project is slated to be completed in a year or 18 months.

“We’ll definitely keep the green space because the residents love it,” Booker-Burrill said of the 2 acres where residents walk near the woods.

Sidmore, the first tenant, said she couldn’t have asked for a better place to live. After being in a wheelchair for many months, she has taken to walking up and down the long, wide, carpeted hall of the building, using a walker or pushing her wheelchair. The exercise has made her stronger and more mobile.

“I can walk up and down the hall all year long,” she said. “All doors are extremely wide. Where would I have gone to find something like this? I was 15 months in a wheelchair, not able to walk, so the fact that I’m walking is a miracle.”

During a tour of her apartment Tuesday, she noted it has eight large windows that let in a lot of natural light.

If she needs anything, all she has to do is call and the response is quick, she said.

“They are wonderful,” she said of the Brown House owners. “I can’t say enough about them. I’ve never had a problem.”

Sidmore says she has made new friends and loves baking in her kitchen and sharing what she makes.

“It’s home for me,” she said. “It’s not just an apartment. It’s home. I love it.”


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