BREWER, Maine — About 20 people assembled Thursday morning at 258 Chamberlain Street to officially break ground on the Chamberlain Place senior housing project.
The $3.4 million, 34,452-square-foot project features 32 rental units — 26 of which will be available with rental assistance — and is expected to create 50 to 100 jobs and $20 million in construction-related effects to Brewer.
It’s also addressing a huge need for affordable senior housing in Brewer.
“The need is pretty much universal throughout the state, but Brewer’s need is greater than anyone else,” said Stephen Mooers, CEO of Penquis Housing, Inc., the Bangor-based project developer. “Brewer has the fastest-growing elderly population, per capita, in America, so you can’t build these projects fast enough.”
Brewer Mayor Jerry Goss said he hopes this project, and the way it was developed, is a harbinger of things to come.
“It fills a critical need and that’s why this project will go a long way toward helping that,” Goss said. “This by no means will finish the effort, but I hope it’s the beginning of much more to come for affordable housing for seniors.”
Mooers explained the unique nature of the Chamberlain Place project and how it differs from other Penquis projects.
“Penquis has been doing these types of projects for about 15 years, but typically we always own them,” he said. “I thought, to get out of that paradigm, why not build for someone else and, when it’s done, let another organization manage it?
“That’s what we do — is develop projects like this — and this approach leaves us more time for development since we have close to 300 units to manage already.”
Mooers said these types of projects operate better if they have Section 8 rental assistance subsidies in them.
“With that in mind, who better to approach than a housing authority?” he asked. “And the folks at Brewer Housing Authority have a good reputation and run a tight ship, so that seemed like an ideal situation. They loved the idea and off we went.”
The project, as popular and needed as it was, hit a few snags along the way.
“When we finally got the green light, I put this project out to bid immediately and the quotes they give are guaranteed for 90 days,” Mooers said. “And the 90-day deadline from the time we accepted Nickerson & O’Day’s bid was August 7. We had closing dates moved back three times, but the third time was the charm and we closed with less than two weeks to spare.”
Mooers’ novel approach could be the standard-bearer for future similar project developments.
“I hope this is a model that will be followed and repeated because this is what it’s going to take for projects like this to get done,” Goss said.
Construction, which is being handled by Nickerson & O’Day, is expected to last 10 to 11 months, with Chamberlain Place ready by May or June.
“We’re a Brewer-based company that’s been here for 60 years and we’re very proud to be doing this project in our hometown,” said Walter Shannon, project manager for Nickerson & O’Day.
The project has already received a warm welcome.
“People I’ve spoken with, from around this neighborhood and even next door, have been curious and come over to check this site out,” said Shannon. “They seem pretty happy to have this project come in, even right next door, in a residential area.”
The project has also led to an unexpected bonus: a low-income community center.
“We were originally going to put a gazebo out there and make some green space, but Brewer Housing Authority got some HUD [Housing and Urban Development] financing, and we were able to reorient the site plan,” said Mooers.
The result is the construction of a low-income utility community center, which will feature an on-site Penquis Headstart program.
“Having these two projects so close by makes this a brilliant idea,” said Goss. “It’ll offer a combination of job retraining, computer training, adult education and day care for the low-income citizens in a nice, new facility with accommodations for kids.
“Having adult-ed in the city of Brewer will be a real bonus.”