PORTLAND, Maine — Surrounded by apartment complexes that used to be student classrooms, Kevin Bunker, the founding principal of Developers Collaborative, cut a ceremonial ribbon to announce his renovation of the Nathan Clifford Residences on Tuesday morning.
From 1907 to 2011, the Nathan Clifford School on Falmouth Street provided an education for elementary students in Portland. The building has been converted into an apartment complex with 22 modern residential units. But it still holds a variety of historical characteristics that keep its scholastic memory alive.
The building was renovated in a manner designed to preserve its historical appearance. Classroom chalkboards, school murals and original flooring are still seen throughout the building, alongside more modern features such as a fitness center, a backyard park and a community garden plot.
Speakers at Tuesday’s ceremony to show off the new complex included Bunker, Portland Mayor Michael Brennan and City Councilor Ed Suslovic. Each expressed gratitude toward those who helped the reclamation project come together and discussed the hard work and dedication that went into collaborating on a project with such a scale.
Bunker originally bought the 44,000-square-foot school, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, for $1.00 in the fall of 2013.
Bunker managed to tap federal tax credits for the renovation because he agreed to abide by strict redevelopment standards. Bunker said during his speech that one of the guiding influences to purchase the building came from the interest expressed by Suslovic.
“Suslovic made this purchase more attractive for us to go after, because we knew he was interested in seeing it transform into something completely new,” said Bunker. “He told us the history of the building and what we had to do to be successful. That really gave us the jump start and motivation to make this project a reality.”
During his speech Tuesday, Suslovic lauded the restoration project.
“The collaboration on this project shows how we can take buildings that are no longer needed for their original purpose and turn them something equally as vibrant that can continue to serve the larger community of Portland,” said Suslovic. “This is just a wonderful opportunity to say thank you to the whole team that took an abandoned school that could become a real problem for the city and restored it.”
The Nathan Clifford Residences are one of the five historic tax credit projects that Bunker’s team has been working on. Although the building has been transformed into apartment complexes, it will continue to be a community landmark within walking distance of the University of Southern Maine and downtown Portland.
John Egan, director of housing development at Coastal Enterprises Inc., spoke at the ceremony and said that his partnership and involvement in the project has given him great joy.
“The word ‘partnership’ gets used a lot on a project like this,” said Egan. “Our model is to get involved, work with others and power programs just like this one. Something as large scale as this collaboration requires a partnership between investor, developer, owner and city officials in Portland.”
During his portion of the speech, Brennan suggested that 50 years ago, it would have been more likely this building would have been bulldozed. However, with today’s society wanting to reduce and reuse products to make them new again, the rebuilding and renovation of old buildings to preserve their historical significance is becoming more popular.
“For years and years, this building served the community and the thousands of students that walked through its hallways,” said Brennan. “Now, a whole new generation of people will have a completely different experience.”