Portland panel maps procedure to reuse Reed School

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PORTLAND — The task force charged with recommending ways to reuse the vacant Thomas B. Reed School has completed its work.

At its fifth and final meeting on June 18, the Reed School Reuse Advisory Task Force voted unanimously to send its seven-page proposal for possible uses, criteria for proposals, and a process for review to the city’s Housing and Community Development Committee.

City Councilor David Brenerman, who chairs the task force and is also vice chairman of the HCDC, said before sending out requests for proposals, the city will first send out requests for qualifications for developers.

“We will narrow down parties by looking at experience,” as well as plans and goals for the development of the building, Brenerman said.

The city will select up to five separate proposals, Brenerman said, looking at how the developer intends to maintain both the 28 Homestead Ave. building and the open space around it. The task force has consistently said any reuse of the building must maintain publicly accessible open space.

The task force also recommended the building site be rezoned to an R-5 residential zone; it is currently zoned as R-3. Brenerman and Christine Grimando, the city’s senior planner who was also on the task force, said R-3 would limit what could be done with the building.

The task force recommended several uses for the building, including housing, combined living and working spaces (such as non-commercial artist residences with studio space), community spaces, and educational uses.

It is discouraging uses such as high-intensity commercial or industrial activity, or anything that would draw a high amount of traffic into the neighborhood. It is also discouraging any residential unit counts that have a “drastically higher density count than allowed under the R-5 zone,” according to the proposal.

The proposal also states the city will rate qualifications and proposals from developers using several criteria, including examining the developers’ track records, their financial strength and experience, and looking at conceptual floor-by-floor plans.

To rate the proposals, the task force recommended two sets of criteria. The primary set, to be weighed more heavily, includes aspects such as the proposal providing a “positive impact” on the neighborhood, containing a portion of workforce dwelling units, and providing a neighborhood amenity, such as the often-cited open space.

Secondary criteria include the purchase price for the property and the benefit to the city tax base.

To ensure appropriate reuse of the building, the task force has also recommended a historic landmark resignation for the property, including its original structure built in the 1920s and an addition built in the 1950s.

Grimando said they are recommending a local designation to begin with, to make it easier for the developer to pursue national registry as a historical landmark.

Kevin Bunker, principal with city-based Developers Collaborative, which developed the former Nathan Clifford School into residences, said that could be problematic, specifically with the 1950s addition.

Part of the addition includes a windowless gymnasium, and if it is placed on the national registry there’s a chance a developer might not be allowed to put windows in, leaving it “undevelopable.”

Grimando said the intent is for the local process to begin, not to have a city mandate for the building to be placed on the national registry.

“We don’t want to lock anyone into an undevelopable building,” she said.

The task force was established in September 2014 by the City Council to come up with recommendations for the empty elementary school. Ownership of the school was transferred to the city in July 2014.

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

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.