Housing seen as likely future for unused Portland school

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PORTLAND —  The Thomas B. Reed School has largely remained vacant and unused since ownership was transferred to the city last summer.

But City Councilor David Brenerman, co-chairman of the task force looking at ways to reuse the building, last week said the hope is to find a use that is in line with the surrounding neighborhood.

He said he thinks the best use for the school would be to turn it into some kind of housing, accompanied by open space.

“(The City Council) would urge whoever bought the building to keep that (land abutting Libby Street) open space or somehow convert it to something that’s useful to the whole neighborhood, not just the people who might live in the Reed School should it become housing,” Brenerman said.

The nearly 34,000-square-foot building at 28 Homestead Ave. was built in 1926 and sits on approximately 2.5 acres, with additions built in subsequent decades.

Brenerman said the building could theoretically become a private or charter school, but it’s more likely it will be turned into housing “given the people who have come to our meetings,” including representatives of Avesta Housing and the Portland Housing Authority.

Seth Parker, director of real estate development at Avesta, said the agency would definitely be interested in the building, but it’s hard to do that before the committee decides what direction to take.

“I think it’s a great site, under the right circumstances we could be very interested,” Parker said. He said the site is well situated from a “smart-growth perspective,” because it is near a bus line and jobs, amenities and services.

“We’re definitely monitoring the process,” Parker said. “We remain interested in any possibilities for that site that might involve housing.”

Brenerman said he thinks the school presents “a significant opportunity for the community to have additional housing or multiple uses.” It can be a lot of different things, he added, including senior housing with adult day care, or housing with community space for the neighborhood.

“There’s a lot of opportunities there for somebody to develop it into something useful for the entire community,” he said, “but particularly for the Riverton neighborhood.”

Brenerman said several city schools have been turned into housing over the past 40 years, including the Nathan Clifford School in 2011, which was sold for $1 to the Developers Collaborative for apartments. He said unlike a few schools that have been revamped for commercial purposes, Reed’s location in the neighborhood wouldn’t work with commercial uses, unless it becomes a mixed-use building with retail on the first floor and apartments above.

“But I’m not sure the neighborhood … would want that,” he added. “I think probably the best use would be some type of housing, and at least part of the remainder would be open space, a park or something that the entire neighborhood could benefit from.”

The building most recently served as the district’s central kitchen, until 2013, when that service moved to Waldron Way. The building has occasionally has been used for community events, such as art classes. In the year before the city took ownership, it provided storage.

Brenerman said the Reed School Reuse Advisory Committee will meet again on May 6. He said the committee originally had a six-month time-line goal for sending a recommendation to the Housing and Community Development Committee, but scheduling conflicts have delayed the process.

“I’m hoping we can agree on something and send it to the HCD Committee and they would take it up in June or July,” Brenerman said.

He said a request for proposals would likely go out in late summer or early fall, and developers would have a month to respond. After the project is awarded, Brenerman said, the council would discuss the best way to sell the building.

“For market-rate housing we would just sell the building,” he said. “For affordable (housing) we may sell it for the value of it, or depending on who the developer is, they may ask for the city to help them keep it affordable.”

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Sidebar Elements

The Thomas B. Reed School at 28 Homestead Ave. in Portland was built in 1926. A city committee is trying to decide how best to reuse the property.

Portland City Councilor David Brenerman said he believes the best use for the building would be some type of housing with attached open space.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.