PARIS — Avesta Housing got the green light to move forward with the renovation project of the Mildred M. Fox School into low-income senior housing, which should break ground this summer.
At the Tuesday, March 28 Paris Planning Board meeting, Tom Greer of Pinkham and Greer Civil Engineers of Portland and Shreya Shah, development officer for Avesta Housing, shared details for the 12-unit apartment complex at 10 E. Main St.
The first and second floors of the building will house six apartments each, which will each have one bedroom, one bathroom and a living and dining area, Shah said. The units will be available to those 55 and older, whose incomes ranges between $19,400 and $26,580 annually. Tentative rents include $519 and $623 a month.
There will be two washers and two dryers on site and an elevator that will service all three levels, including the basement. Planning Board member Rick Little – who was promoted from an alternate to a voting member last week – asked where the elevator would be located. Greer answered it will be to the left of the front door of the building that the handicap ramp leads up to.
“It’s been a challenge to put it inside,” Greer said about the elevator. “My understanding is the architect worked really hard to get it in there.”
The building will be heated through propane via radiant heating. There will also be air conditioning as some of the apartment windows are facing south and could heat up during the summer months, Shah said. Two hot water boilers will be installed in the basement.
“The basement is going to be a community space where residents can sit down to do a puzzle [and] talk with each other,” Shah said. There will also be an area with Internet access where residents can teleconference with a doctor or medical provider to avoid having to go to the office.
Town Clerk Liz Knox – who attended the Fox School – asked if the original hardwood floors would remain. The plan is to incorporate them into the new design, according to Shah and Greer.
“It will be sprinkled, which to me is a huge improvement,” Greer added.
As for the outside of the building, not a lot will change.
“The fire escape is going to go away. Other than that the building pretty much stays as it is to keep the historic nature of it,” Greer said, adding the windows, siding and two entrances will remain intact.
Shah said part of the plan is to take out the windows, retrofit them and re-install them.
“It is an old prison-looking building. Why can you not make it prettier outside? Is that a town thing? Is it a federal thing?” Little asked.
“It is a federal thing,” Greer answered.
Shah added a big portion of Avesta’s financing for the project is through historic tax credits.
“We cannot make a lot of changes to the exterior of the building – it has to be pretty consistent what it looked like historically,” she said.
Greer noted the same goes for the landscaping. The plan for the 1.5-acre property is to add a few trees along the parking lot to shade it and the walkway and add short shrubberies to soften the corners of the building.
“It’s to stay within the historic nature of the site,” he said. “When you start adding lots of landscaping, you take it from an era it was built in to a different era.”
The building was erected in 1885 by local historian and builder Silas P. Maxim, according to Ben Conant, president of the Paris Cape Historical Society. It was used as a elementary and high school, along with SAD 17 office space later on. Most recently, the Oxford Hills Christian Academy called the Fox School home until January 2016 when boiler issues forced the tenant to relocate.
There will be 15 spaces in the parking lot and four of them will be handicapped, according to Greer.
“That’s normally enough but if more senior residents come in who need them … we start re-striping the parking lot to make sure they have a space available to them,” he said, adding 60 to 70 percent of senior housing residents will have one car. “That’s one of the great benefits of being in the village. They can still walk to most places. I think this is going to make it very successful.”
Planning Board Chairman Jim Hakala asked if there would be street or parking lot lights to illuminate the parking lot. There will be overhead, energy-efficient LED lights in the parking lot that “will be on either timers or some type of computer control so they’re on when they need to be or off when they need to be,” Greer said.
The paved half-loop drive in the front of the property will be removed and the area will be loamed and seeded.
There will be a garden space for residents to utilize. The fencing behind the building will remain as a barrier to the Little Androscoggin River. There is also a gazebo out back that will remain and be a place for residents to use. Hakala asked if there would be a space for residents to sit down and enjoy the outdoors like a picnic table area. Shah said that could be added to the project.
Solid waste disposal will be in the back corner of the lot, which will be American Disabilities Act complaint, and most likely feature smaller garbage containers that can roll, according to Greer. He added there are tentative plans to add a building on the back of the property for more senior housing. But that wouldn’t be for another five years at least, Shah said.
Planning Board member Henry Raymond asked if there would be locked key access to the building. There will be and there will be a lock box on the outside of the building, just like other Avesta Housing sites, for emergency responders, Shah said.
Board member Franca Ainsworth asked if there would be a turnaround for emergency vehicles. Greer said there is a little bit of a turnaround near the garbage area for ambulances, but fire trucks will have to back up.
Little wanted to know if the building would go on the tax rolls, which it will. This is part of the reason the selectboard opted to put the building on the market when it regained ownership of the property from SAD 17 in 2015.
“I am a happy guy,” Little said.
The Planning Board unanimously voted to waive a soil erosion assessment and public hearing on the project. The board also deemed Avesta’s application as complete and approved the proposal for permits and applications, contingent on review by the state Fire Marshall.
Shah said Avesta’s funding is secured. The plan is to begin construction in July or August and the project should take no more than a year to complete.
Currently, the historic review of the property and project is underway by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, along with asbestos removal planning that’s supposed to continue this week.
The design drawings are 50 percent complete and once they’re finished, Shah said Avesta will submit them to Code Enforcement Officer Kingston Brown for review.