West Harpswell School could become housing for elderly

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HARPSWELL — The committee charged with finding a new use for the West Harpswell School held a public forum Wednesday night to gather ideas about how to redevelop the property.

Some ideas considered by the West Harpswell School Reuse Task Force and brought up by the community include a medical clinic, community or tutoring center, recreational facility, day care, or low-income senior housing. To find out more about that last option, the task force met with the Greater Brunswick Housing Corp. on Tuesday.

John Hodge, executive director of the GBHC, said housing would be “a natural reuse” of the school, and said he has overseen the conversion other schools into apartments in the past.

Doing some back-of-the-envelope calculations, Hodge estimated that approximately 12 one or two-bedroom apartments could be constructed in the 17,250-square-foot building. The redeveloped property could also include a community center, something that interested members of the committee.

If the town wants to pursue the housing option at WHS, Hodge said his organization would first have to tour the facility.

“That is always the first step for us,” he said. “To take a look at the property, assess its reuse value, then make a presentation to the town and say, well, we think you should save it, or, we think it should be torn down.”

Hodge would also need the town to decide on its target audience for the housing facility, for example people 55 and up making 60 percent of the median income, and would then do a market study to determine how many people in the area would fall into that group.

But he said the market study has limitations.

“The market still will not tell you whether (people in the target population will) want to live in this type of housing,” he said.

The final step is to secure financing for the project, which could involve a combination of grants and tax credits.

Hodge said the entire process would take 18 to 36 months from the time the town takes possession of the school.

But that decision is still up in the air. Residents must decide at a special Town Meeting sometime in August if they want to assume ownership of the school.

Before then, task force Chairwoman Hope Hilton said the group is “asking people in town what they would like (to happen with the school) to try to educate us on what it would mean to take title to this property.”

The group plans to hold another public forum sometime in the next few months.

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.

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