Conversion of old Portland school faces final vote

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PORTLAND — The city’s Historic Preservation Board on Wednesday is scheduled to vote on final plans for converting the 106-year-old Nathan Clifford Elementary School into 22 market-rate apartments.

A vote to approve the plans would help pave the way for Developers Collaborative, the new owner of the former public school building, to begin construction on the property at 172-180 Falmouth St. as soon as February.

In October, the City Council voted to sell the four-story building and surrounding property for $1. The school, a city historic landmark designed by famed architect John Calvin Stevens, closed in 2011 after the opening of Ocean Avenue Elementary School.

Since then, the Clifford building has been vacant, deteriorating and the target of vandalism.

Terms of the sale call for Developers Collaborative to keep 18,000 square feet of the 67,000-square-foot school campus as public space, and to spend $15,000 on public infrastructure improvements.

The Planning Board has already approved the development plans; the Preservation Board conducted a hearing on Nov. 20. At that meeting, board members suggested the removal of two shed-like structures that were not original to the building, as well as changes in railings, lighting and windows.

The board then tabled a vote on the plans until Wednesday.

Kevin Bunker, of Developers Collaborative, on Monday said he was optimistic about the board’s potential decision and the future of the project.

“We’ve had overwhelming support, but have made changes in the plans based on what (the board and the public) have wanted,” he said.

The developer has a rapid time line for the project, hoping to finish it by the end of 2014 in order to receive tax credits for the historic preservation work.

So far, the project is on schedule, Bunker said.

“This is coming together pretty well. We’ve already saved a month or two in getting approvals … and we expect to close with the city in a week or 10 days,” he said. “I’ll bring my dollar.”

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.