FRYEBURG, Maine — Representatives from Portland, Maine-based Avesta Housing elaborated on their plans for the former C.A. Snow School property at last Thursday’s selectmen's meeting, which may or may not preserve the school building depending on its historical significance.
Avesta CEO and President Dana Totman and Development Officer Catherine Elliott of Avesta of Portland, Maine, also answered a litany of questions from residents and selectmen at the May 23 meeting held at the American Legion.
Avesta is a non-profit housing development organization founded in 1972 that has 98 properties in southern Maine and New Hampshire, totaling a portfolio of $300 million.
The total gross cost would be $6 million-7 million depending on the project’s direction.
Voters at town meeting last year passed an article authorizing the town to buy the school property for a dollar. A 10-member ad hoc committee tapped Avesta’s proposal after an RFP process that ended in March.
That committee chose Avesta’s senior housing plan, which allots a maximum of 24 housing units on the school property, to help relieve a local shortage of senior-appropriate housing.
Forty percent of households over age 55 and older in Northwest Maine are rent-burdened, according to Avesta’s proposal.
Project completion, according to the proposal, is slated for May 2021. Two proposals that lost out were a mixed-use development and cultural center.
Many of Avesta’s projects are new construction, but Totman gave examples of past projects that were successful like the 1912 Emery School in Biddeford, Maine, with 24 homes and 1893 Hyacinth Place in Westbrook, Maine, with 37 homes.
Selectman Kimberly Clarke said she doesn’t support reusing the back school building, saying, “there’s historic, and then there’s just old,” she said. “It feels very institutional.”
Totman said his organization typically builds communities upwards of 70 units but towns like South Paris, Maine, and Fryeburg should have projects “of appropriate scale” relative to size.
“There’s a federal historic tax credit and a state historic tax credit, and those two combined really make schools quite feasible,” he said.
Elliott said the Administrative Building of 1903 still has most of its original architectural structure and that will be key when presented to the federal government for tax credits.
The Snow school complex on Pine Street was vacated when the Molly Ockett School expansion was completed in 2017.
Work to restore the building to a more original condition would include fixing the windows, but Elliott stressed that a balance between preservation and renovation up to modern standards will be maintained.
“The wild card is the back school building,” said Elliott,
Avesta isn’t sure if it will be fully, partially or completely demolished due to it having so many additions of different ages.
That building was built in 1952 and has additions all the way up to the early 1980s.
Elliott said the back building could fit up to 16 apartments and the gym may be turned into a community space, but Avesta has yet to determine exact numbers.
The administrative building may have up to six apartments.
Rent with utilities will vary from $565-$678 a month.
Concerning the large open lot behind the school, Elliott said ground-based solar panels could offset operating expenses and reduce the energy footprint.
A portion of the area would be used for a new septic system, with landscaping on top of it.
Community gardens are also a feature at some Avesta developments and would be considered for the Snow School project as well said Elliott.
Avesta is currently looking at two directions for where the project should go, both with solar and community spaces.
The first is to renovate both buildings, maintaining most of the existing footprint. The second is to save the administrative building but razing the school building and building 10-15 new apartments. “That would be more consistent with what we originally proposed,” Elliott said.
Another option is to raze part of the school building and put in an addition. “We have great partners at a number of various agencies that we’re working with and we’re optimistic that we’ll be able to move forward,” Elliott said.
Dick Krasker of Fryeburg asked, “Would it be possible to put laundry units in each apartment in the old building?”
Laundry is usually not in every apartment, Totman said, but “chances (for a laundry area) in that old building are very strong.”
Krasker also asked about covered parking and how to get Fryeburg residents at the top of the apartment list.
Totman said the Fair Housing Act doesn’t allow Avesta to limit apartments to just Fryeburg residents. “But what we might attempt to do, we market it in such a way in that the early applications are taken at the library,” he responded.
Selectman Tom Kingsbury asked if there will be a maintenance person on-site.
“There will probably not be a full time one on this site,” Totman responded and added that Avesta has mobile maintenance teams on call 24 hours a day and he estimated they’d be at the Fryeburg apartments two days a week.
Kingsbury also asked about eligibility and if someone’s assets like a house would write them off.
Seniors eligible for housing would have an income up to the $32,000 range said Totman.
Assets or part of an applicant’s assets may also be factored into the eligibility equation to get them through the door if need be.
Resident Greg Huang-Dale asked how the wider community could be involved with the housing community.
Totman said in their other housing communities town and city residents help cook meals, garden and also partner with aging population groups and home health agencies.
“It’s our intent to allow the community to use it.”