Cumberland seeks proposals for school conversion

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CUMBERLAND — The town is looking for proposals for conversion of the Drowne Road School to senior housing.

Proposals for the project – which is expected to create about $4 million to $5 million in equivalent taxable real estate – are due by 5 p.m. Thursday, July 27.

The school reuse is the last of three phases in the Village Green Revitalization Master Plan. In April the Town Council approved a contract zone agreement with Village Green Cumberland, a corporation created by project developer Bateman Partners, for the first phase of that plan. In that phase, the 40.7-acre Doane property will be developed as a 59-lot residential subdivision with a mix of single-family and duplex homes.

Bateman, after receiving permits from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, is expected to seek final subdivision approval from the town this month or in August.

The School Administrative District 51 Board of Directors voted last year to close the Drowne Road School and use it for other purposes, and to move third grade to the Mabel I. Wilson School. Voters in the Cumberland-North Yarmouth school district supported the decision last month.

As a result, the 17,600-square-foot building has reverted back to the town.

Cumberland’s request for proposals calls for several development specifics, such as at least 35 units for rental senior housing or independent living, which would each be between 800 and 1,000 square feet, a nurse on site all the time, a community room or library, and on-site parking.

The developer will pay the town $480,000 – the remainder of a bond that funded improvements to the building in the late 1990s – over three years. It will also pay the town $80,000 each year as payment in lieu of taxes, with a negotiated escalation clause included to cover annual local tax increases (as long as the town owns the property it cannot receive taxes from it, hence the payment in lieu of taxes).

The developer would lease the building from the town on a long-term basis and reap the revenue generated from running the facility.

Town Manager Bill Shane noted last week that the Town Council supports the conversion of the school. He said the first and third phases of the revitalization project are expected first, while the proposed second phase could come later.

In that phase, the Public Works and school bus facilities would be moved; six single-family and 12 duplex homes would be built in their place, along with a nearly 43,000-square-foot mixed-use building that would house 20 residential rental units and 14,300 square feet of office or retail space.

The Drowne Road School started as a school, then served as Town Hall before reverting again to a school after the current Town Hall was built in the late 1990s. The town took out two bonds at the same time; one to build the Town Hall and the other to renovate and expand the Drowne Road School.

While it used the school, SAD 51 made annual payments to the town for the work to that building, and $480,000 remains on that $1.7 million renovation bond.

Shane said he hopes the town will have an option agreement on the building by mid-August. The project will then need site plan approval by the town.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.