Brewer City Council approves plan to sell middle school for affordable senior housing

Posted Oct. 09, 2012, at 10:01 p.m.

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BREWER, Maine — The historic Brewer Middle School, which has sat vacant for the last two years, may soon have a new purpose now that Brewer Housing Authority has agreed to purchase the building for low-income senior housing.

Brewer City Council agreed on Tuesday night to sell the empty school, and also to revitalize the block around the old school.

“It will be affordable housing for seniors age 55 and older,” housing authority executive director Gordon Stitham said after the meeting.

The purchase option gives the housing authority up to a year to purchase the building but allows for an extension, D’arcy Main-Boyington, Brewer’s economic development director, told councilors.

“The cost of the building is $15,000 if they purchase this year,” she said. “If they extend it for a second year, it will increase to $35,000.”

Somerset Place Associates, a limited liability corporation under the housing authority, will purchase the middle school property, and the housing authority also will be the developer, Stitham said.

The housing authority is applying for low-income tax credits through Maine State Housing Authority, and had to have its application into the state this month for the current round of credits.

“Last I heard there were 26 applications and, of course, they are only going to select seven or eight,” Stitham said. “We predict us not receiving the tax credits in this round, but expect to receive them in the next round. We’re not paying the city until we receive the funding.”

The housing authority also has asked for a property tax break, Main-Boyington said.

“They will be using tax credits that require them to be on the tax rolls for the first 15 years,” she said.

The Brewer Housing Authority had expressed interest in acquiring Brewer Middle School, at 5 Somerset St., several years ago after learning that it, along with three other schools, would be put up for sale after the new Brewer Community School was built to replace them. The new school opened last year.

“We’ve had city employees working their tails off” to find a developer capable of renovating the historic school into a community asset, City Councilor Kevin O’Connell said after the meeting.

The housing authority’s plan is to change the old middle school, built in 1926 and vacant for the last two years, into 28 one-bedroom units, Stitham said.

“This is a debt-free project because it’s all tax credits,” he said.

The Brewer Housing Authority also is applying for historic building tax credits for the 86-year-old structure, Stitham said.

“With historic [tax credits], you can get federal and state [funds],” he said. “That will help us renovate the performing arts center,” located inside the school.

That also means that “the whole community will be able to use the theater, not just residents,” Stitham said.

As part of the effort, the city has created the Highland Street Community Revitalization Plan to improve the block formed by Highland, State, Somerset and Parker streets, which includes the old middle school, the empty State Street School and a playing field.

The plan is intended to improve the aesthetic value of the neighborhood through various grant funds, the council order states.

City leaders, including O’Connell and Mayor Jerry Goss, expressed enthusiasm about the low-income housing development for seniors and the block revitalization plan.

“We’re very, very excited,” O’Connell said.

“A historic building — to see it fixed is tremendous,” the mayor said.

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