Portland panel nears proposal for vacant Reed School

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PORTLAND — The task force charged with finding a new use for the vacant Thomas B. Reed School has one meeting left before making its final recommendations.

The Reed School Reuse Advisory Task Force came up with draft recommendations to change the zoning of the property to allow multi-family housing, and preservation of open space for the community.

Christine Grimando, the city’s senior planner, said the current zoning, R-3, doesn’t work for reuse of the school because it is designed for single-family homes. The recommendation is to switch the property to R-5.

“R-5 offers us more flexibility,” Grimando said.

City Councilor David Brenerman, who chairs the committee, said the R-5 zone allows more density, “but more importantly will allow someone to develop the school into more than just two units.”

“When the City Council zoned that part of (the neighborhood), Reed was a school, and schools are allowed in R-3 zone,” Brenerman said. “No one thought at the time the school would close. Now that we want to sell the building and have it used for something else, (R-3) is not the appropriate zone for the school.”

Both Brenerman and Grimando said the committee and neighborhood residents would still like to see the school be renovated as housing or some kind of community space.

Grimando said reuse as housing has been received favorably. She said combined living and working spaces, as well things like educational uses and different kinds of day care possibilities, have all come up.

“I think the committee would like to see site reoccupied, they feel very strongly there be open space left and whatever happens they want to make sure it will work with neighborhood,” she said. 

Brenerman said “different people want to see different things,” but he believes a “large majority” of the neighborhood would like to see the building be used for housing. He also said people want to see varied uses, such as housing with adult day care, or workforce housing.

“It depends on what a developer can do on that spot and do it economically,” he said.

Brenerman said maintaining the open space while ensuring the property is attractive to a developer is a “primary issue.” He said the committee hopes to do something similar to the Nathan Clifford School project, where open space was preserved.

“It doesn’t have to be market-rate apartments necessarily,” Brenerman said. “But I think the neighbors would probably like to see market rate. But the City Council might have some other ideas. … We’ll have to see when we go for requests for proposals.”

The open space would be open to the community, but would be owned and maintained by the developer, Brenerman said.

Grimando said there is also a recommendation to apply for historic preservation for the building, which could result in a tax credit. Brenerman said the Maine Historic Preservation Commission has already told the committee the two oldest portions of the building would qualify for historic preservation, if the developer wants to apply for that.

Grimando said the meeting on final recommendations should happen within a month or so. After that, the proposal will go to the Housing and Community Development Committee.

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.