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Clifford School developer promises 'funky cool' project in Portland

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Clifford School developer promises 'funky cool' project in Portland

PORTLAND — Some desks still sit in empty classrooms, and blackboards have not been erased, but change is coming to the 107-year-old former Nathan Clifford School at 180 Falmouth St.

Kevin Bunker, a principal with city-based Developers Collaborative, expects what will be called the Nathan Clifford Residences to be ready for occupancy by December.

"I have not walked through many buildings in as good a shape," Bunker said last Friday about the 44,000-square-foot school, which he bought from the city for $1 last fall.

At a ceremonial ribbon cutting on Friday, Bunker said he hopes by late December to be renting 22 units, renovated to maintain the historic integrity of the building, which was designed by architect John Calvin Stevens and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Because Clifford School closed in 2011, its continued use was an additional attraction, Bunker said.

"There was no gradual disinvestment here," he said. "It was in pretty good shape."

The school will be converted into 17 two-bedroom, four three-bedroom and one single-bedroom units. There will also be two suites with bedrooms and bathrooms for use by guests of the tenants.

Bunker said he liked the location near the University of Southern Maine and the unique features of the school, including the third-floor auditorium that will be converted into three apartments.

One apartment will incorporate the wooden stage as a raised living-room area.

"It will be a funky cool unit," Bunker promised. “There's going to be someone to say 'I want that unit and I want only that unit.'"

The city sold the former school to Bunker last October after he also offered $200,000 for the 1.5-acre property, valued by the city last April at $2.73 million.

For the higher bid, Bunker said he also wanted to build duplexes on land behind the school, which sits between Payson and Deane streets.

Portland city councilors decided to take less money and keep the open space behind the school.

Bunker said Developers Collaborative gathers independent developers who often take on preservation and renovation projects.

"We all like smart growth and community-related stuff. We partner, but we partner at the real estate level," he said.

The building's listing on the National Register, which is administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior, means Bunker can capture state and federal tax credits for the renovation, but only by meeting strict redevelopment standards designed to prevent large alterations to the exterior and interior.

It will require some asbestos remediation, and will also need new windows and mechanical systems for heating and cooling. Bunker said he will use natural gas for heating and cooling, and will make the building compliant with Americans With Disabilities Act standards.

A key to development is a clear assessment of the interior conditions, Bunker said, noting than an undiscovered problem can prove costly.

"You are basically putting a new building inside (the old one)," he said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.