Work begins on Bath housing project at former Huse School

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BATH — The former John E.L. Huse Memorial School, built during World War II to meet shipbuilding workforce needs, is being renovated and expanded to address a housing need.

Portland-based Szanton Co., which began work on the site after acquiring the 39 Andrews Road building last week, plans to develop 59 mixed-income apartments, with almost half in a new northeast wing.

The property has been subdivided into a municipal band building and ball fields, which the city retains, and the 2.49-acre Huse School lot, which Szanton owns.

The complex will include 16 market-rate apartments, as well as 43 units reserved for households that earn at or below 60 percent of the area median income. There will be 48 one-bedroom, six two-bedroom, and five studio apartments.

Residents can move in immediately after construction concludes next July, Project Manager Andy Jackson said in an interview at the site Monday. Lease applications are expected to be available next spring.

“As soon as we get our certificate of occupancy from the city … we can move in people basically the next day,” Jackson said.

It’s arguably been a long time coming. Debora Keller, director of Bath Housing, noted the need for the new units in an Aug. 4 Szanton Co. press release.

“Bath Housing has 346 households on our waiting lists for housing,” Keller said. “With only 165 apartments in our portfolio, we are serving people that applied almost two years ago. We’ve worked with over 180 families just this year to help them navigate their housing needs. We find that over half of those seeking housing have some sort of disability, making the need for an accessible building with an elevator critical.”

Szanton has received “a fair amount of calls” expressing interest in the complex, spurring the company to start a wait list, Jackson said.

“We’ve gotten really positive feedback (about) bringing high-quality, rent-restricted apartments to this location,” he added. “It’s a great location, right next to the YMCA, right next to the ball fields and the Whiskeag Trail.”

The project’s financial feasibility hinged on a successful application for affordable housing tax credits from MaineHousing. The credits offset $5.8 million of the project’s total $10.3 million budget, developer Nathan Szanton said last December, after his company learned it would receive the credits.

Recently included on the National Register of Historic Places, according to the Szanton press release, the school was built in 1942 by the federal government as a means of attracting shipbuilders to Bath in order to boost the Navy’s production of ships at Bath Iron Works.

An addition was built in 1949, bringing the size of the building to more than 33,000 square feet. It has always been owned by the city, and was occupied by the Regional School Unit 1 central office until 2010.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Project Manager Andy Jackson, left, and Larry Ross, the site construction foreman, at the The Szanton Co.’s renovation and expansion of the former Huse School in Bath at 39 Andrews Road on Monday, Aug. 8.

A wall that separated two classrooms inside the Huse School in Bath. Items from the 1942 building, such as chalkboards and doors, will be preserved when the building is turned into 59 apartments.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.