Avesta Housing shares plans for Fox School complex in Paris

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PARIS — Selectmen were given a presentation and a loose timeline on the proposed affordable living senior housing project at the Mildred M. Fox School on Monday, July 11.

Courtesy of Avesta Housing CONCEPT — An Avesta Housing representative gave a presentation to Paris selectmen about plans for affordable, senior housing at the Mildred M. Fox School.
Courtesy of Avesta Housing
CONCEPT — An Avesta Housing representative gave a presentation to Paris selectmen about plans for affordable, senior housing at the Mildred M. Fox School.

Seth Parker, director of real estate development for Avesta Housing, said his nonprofit organization is an active developer in Maine with a mission “to either build, preserve and provide” affordable housing for families, seniors and special populations, such as the disabled. He shared Avesta Housing has a history of repurposing of old schools.

“The repurposing of old schools has happened a lot around the state and happened a lot around the country,” he said. “They are tricky structures.”

Parker noted the proposed plans for the historic, brick building on East Main Street are still only conceptual in nature. Avesta wants to preserve the front lawn and add some more parking in front, for a total of 35 parking spaces.

The first plan includes renovating the school to create 12 mostly one-bedroom apartments, with possibly a couple two-bedroom units.

“That is sort of a function of the layout of the school with classrooms,” he said, adding they’re roughly 800 square feet. “So they lend themselves well to a one-bedroom apartment.”

The apartments would probably range between 700 and 800 square feet and cost between $400 and a little more than $600 a month, which is based on income. Resident Franca Ainsworth wanted to know if utilities were included with rent.

Parker answered that rent would include heat, hot water and electricity.

“Sounds like a good deal,” Ainsworth commented.

The second plan includes adding a 6,250-square foot, two-story addition onto the building with an additional 16 units.

“This is a concept we have not fully determined,” he said. “We’re not 100 percent sure yet which avenue we would take. We’re leaning more towards [renovating] the existing unit without the addition.”

Resident Kathy Richardson wanted to know who would manage the facility and what sort of population would reside there.

Avesta has its own property management group, maintenance workers would be on site frequently and there is a rigorous screening process to make sure residents are income eligible and there aren’t criminal issues, Parker said. The apartments are for people who are 55 and older and able to live on their own, he added.

Parker noted Avesta has one assisted care facility in Gorham and the Fox School is right next door to Market Square Health Care Center.

“We really like that model because it provides a continued care of seniors,” he said, adding that the neighboring facilities are separate. “The concept of using building housing next to Market Square was exciting for us for many reasons.”

After the town reacquired the Fox School back from SAD 17 last year, a special town meeting was held in December 2015 where voters approved to put the building on the market.

Selectman Scott Buffington asked Parker if Avesta Housing would pay property taxes to the town. He answered yes because the nonprofit sells tax credits to investors and becomes a for profit limited partnership. Parker added Avesta normally pays a reduced property tax during renovation, the property is reassessed during the first year and eventually brought back up to its full value.

Buffington also asked about a 2012 award-winning Advertiser Democrat investigation into Section 8 housing in the area and Avesta Housing’s role.

“Avesta didn’t own or manage any of the housing that was part of that investigation. We were the managers of the housing assistance vouchers that folks were using … to help pay for their rent,” Parker answered. “Maine State Housing took those vouchers back in house. … There is just limited stock in these communities and a lot of it was not the best conditions. … We didn’t disagree with that. I think what we learned from it is this is a lot more complicated than what was put out there.”

Selectman Vic Hodgkins shared a loose timeline of the project. He said a purchase and sales agreement needs to be signed, then Avesta Housing needs to get its financing – in the form of historic and low-income tax credits, along with possible grants – situated. The goal is to break ground on the project next spring and it will take approximately a year to complete.

“I am very excited about the amount of money your company is willing to invest into our community,” Buffington told Parker.

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Pellets at the Fox School

PARIS —Selectmen learned Monday, July 11 that SAD 17 wasn’t interested in purchasing pellets still left in the broken boiler in the basement of the Mildred M. Fox School.

“They are hesitant to take something that’s already been exposed in another environment, which I can understand,” said Interim Town Manager Bill Guindon. “One option is to sell them by the bucket. We’ve even looked at taking bags. The big thing is trying to figure out how we’re going to get them out of there.”

There are roughly 5 tons of pellets remaining.

Selectman Scott Buffington said he knows many residents in town use pellets to heat their homes during the winter.

“I wouldn’t throw them away if we can sell them at a discount to Paris residents,” he said.

Selectman Vic Hodgkins suggested creating a pellet piggy bank of sorts and selling them when the time is right.

Guindon told selectmen he also has a pellet boiler energy organization trying to network to see if there is any interest in the town’s pellets.