The more former Falmouth school changes, the more it stays the same

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FALMOUTH — What was once a place of learning for children will soon be a place senior citizens can call home.

The Planning Board recently gave final approval for 34 units of senior housing to be built in the now-vacant Samson D. Plummer School on Lunt Road, which is owned by OceanView retirement community.

In order to get historic tax credits, however, Ocean View had to agree to preserve the architecture, and the building will continue to look like the school it once was.

The town stopped operating a school in the building in 2011, when educational services were moved to a new campus on Woodville Road. In 2013, Portland Public Schools West Day Treatment Program temporarily moved into the school for 10 months.

OceanView purchased the Plummer-Motz and Lunt property in 2012, and last November the Town Council conveyed town-owned land to OceanView to allow an add on to Plummer. In return for the parcel – which is just over 1/10th of an acre – OceanView swapped nearly 3/4 of an acre of land with the town. The land, at the corner of Lunt and Middle Roads, includes the Ann Lamb Memorial and Henry Binder Memorial Tree.

In addition, OceanView will do landscaping and hard-scaping improvements to Village Green, and grant the town a public easement to walking trails around the stormwater retention pond at the southern end of Village Green.

Matt Teare, director of development for Sea Coast Management, which manages OceanView, said Plummer had to be separated from the adjacent Mason-Motz building to be considered for the tax credits. The gymnasium in the building will also have to be restored to its former condition.

“Originally it was a beautiful old gym,” Teare said, but it flooded in the 1940s, and the school turned it into a library. Teare said the plan is to turn the roughly 2,500- square-foot space into a multi-purpose room.

Teare said the estimated price range for the apartments will be $1,600-$1,800 a month, with a service package offered for a few hundred dollars. Nearby, OceanView’s cottages are considered full-service plans with a fee model, meaning residents purchase units, which start at $200,000, and then pay a monthly fee, which is returned if residents leave. Just down the road on Squidere Lane sits Blackstone Apartments, run by Avesta Housing, which are for lower-income residents.

“We’re trying to do stuff that serves folks in the middle,” Teare said.

Chris Wasileski, the development project manager for OceanView, said developers had originally presented the town with the idea of turning the gym into the town’s senior center. However, the town decided to place the center in the adjacent Mason-Motz building. Teare said a patio will be built on the side of the building facing Mason-Motz that seniors will be allowed to use.

There had also been discussions about the Falmouth Memorial Library moving into the school, until the library’s board of trustees rejected that proposal.

OveanView will restore the gymnasium’s wood floor and build a set of bleachers to replace seating that was there before. The floors and walls around the building will be restored or renovated, and evidence that the building was once a school – such as chalkboard outlines– will remain.

“It will have a lot of character,” Wasileski said of the gym.

Teare said the apartments will range in size from 400 to 900 square feet, with most in the 600-square-foot range. There will be a common laundry room in the building. Much of the interior, including walls and windows, will remain. Even the old stage in the building will be incorporated into final designs.

“We will end up with interesting apartments,” Teare said.

Teare and Wasileski said they expect construction to begin in September or October, with the building ready for occupancy by fall 2017. Teare said all units will be classified as affordable for residents who earn no more than 120 percent of the area median income.

“We wanted to serve a segment of people with moderate incomes we don’t think is being served,” Teare said.

Wasileski said the apartments could be ideal for residents at the OceanView campus who are interested in downsizing, or don’t want the full slate of services offered at OceanView and want to save and stretch their assets.

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

To qualify for tax credits, housing developers had to agree to preserve the historic character of the former Plummer School in Falmouth.

The vacant Plummer School on Lunt Road will be turned into 34 rental units for senior housing.

Matt Teare, director of development for Sea Coast Management, and Chris Wasileski, the development project manager for OceanView, outside the former Plummer School in Falmouth.

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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.