A 1950s-era middle school in Augusta, Maine, built to accommodate the baby boom will now serve that population in another capacity—47 units of affordable housing.
The redevelopment of the school, which has been vacant since the end of the 2009 school year, comes at a critical time when Maine is facing a shortage of nearly 9,000 affordable units for its senior residents, according to the Maine Real Estate Managers Association. Without addressing the issue, the shortfall is anticipated to grow to 15,000 by 2022.
As the Augusta Housing Authority’s first development, Hodgkins School Apartments, which is slated to be completed by the end of September, is a step in addressing the city’s housing need.
“It was obvious that it was really time for us to step up to the plate to meet the housing need in the community,” says Amanda Bartlett, executive director of the Augusta Housing Authority.
When Bartlett came on board to lead the housing authority almost three years ago, the city had a huge unmet demand for housing. Units recently had been lost due to structure fires and code violations, and prior to this project, the housing authority only administered Sec. 8 vouchers.
The housing authority partnered with Kevin Bunker at Portland-based Developers Collaborative on the project. It also received key support from the city, which had money set aside for the demolition of the building but instead gave the housing authority a long-term lease for $1 a year.
The 39 one-bedroom and eight efficiency units will serve households 55 and older who earn less than 60% of the area median income, with a preference for homeless veterans. The development also received 12 project-based vouchers.
The site is a great fit for seniors, says Bartlett. It is tucked off the main road, but still close to a grocery store and a pharmacy. The development also is adjacent to a wooded area with a network of walking trails. A healing garden with a labyrinth and a seating area has been added, with a path working its way into the trails at the back of the property.
“We really tried to create an extension of the living space throughout the site,” she says. “We know the seniors want to be active, and we wanted to create a site that supports that.”
The development team embraced the one-story building’s mid-century design. Original skylights and ceiling heights that had been covered up for years have been restored, and the units have a cool “Mad Men” design inspired by the era, according to Bartlett. Some of the school lockers have been retained in common areas, and the stage area of the gymnasium has been converted to a community room.
The team overcame the challenge of making the building more energy efficient while preserving the school’s old glass-block walls, a major architectural feature on the historic building. In the end, it was able to increase the insulation on half of the glass blocks on the interior, while leaving the remainder exposed. All of the glass blocks are visible on the exterior.
The $9 million adaptive-reuse project was funded by federal low-income housing tax credits allocated by MaineHousing, state and federal historic tax credits, and a deferred developer fee. Northern New England Housing Investment Fund provided the federal LIHTC and historic tax credit equity, while Coastal Enterprises purchased the state historic tax credits. Bangor Savings Bank was the construction lender.
“We’re really excited to be able to take an old, vacant, vandalized building that’s really been an eyesore and transform the whole neighborhood,” says Bartlett.