Although the project remains in an “evaluation” stage, the national nonprofit Volunteers of America has a $6.2 million plan to turn Waldoboro’s vacant A.D. Gray School into 32 units of affordable senior housing.
Representatives of Volunteers of America presented the concept to the Waldoboro Planning Board during a preapplication meeting Wednesday, July 15.
Travis Drake, director of housing services at Volunteers of America’s Northern New England division, and Brian Sites, vice president of business development and implementation for the division, attended via Zoom.
According to its website, Volunteers of America provides affordable housing, assistance for people with disabilities, assistance with basic needs, behavioral and mental health services, and programs for children and families, with 33 affiliates around the country serving more than 1 million individuals annually.
The meeting was an informal and informational proceeding to discuss Volunteers of America’s idea for the site, according to Max Johnstone, a planning consultant to the town.
“The town has not made any assurance or guarantees to any developers that are looking at A.D. Gray,” Johnstone said.
Sites said the organization’s plans for the property are still in the development stage.
“We are trying to provide as much detail as possible to have an informed conversation, but at the same time, we want to remind everyone, at this point, we are in the conceptual, evaluation stage,” Sites said.
According to Sites, Volunteers of America representatives have met with town officials, including the A.D. Gray Committee, and visited the A.D. Gray site.
“Between Thomaston and where our housing is in Topsham, we really have no programs or housing for seniors. We talked to a lot of communities across the state and we hear that housing is a great need and we know, along the Route 1 corridor especially, there is a great need for not only senior housing but workforce housing, affordable housing all around,” Sites said.
Sites described Waldoboro as a strategic location to provide both housing and programming for senior citizens.
Sites said that after a walk-through of the school with an architect, the organization developed conceptual designs.
“We first looked at maybe 24-25 units and we did some extra work around a third-party feasibility assessment and we determined the project works better with 32 units as opposed to 25 units,” Sites said.
The organization would add a third floor onto the rear of the existing two-story building.
The addition “would blend with the front facade, the old facade of the building,” Sites said. “By doing the addition on the back side, you are kind of shielding the visibility of that third floor to some degree and it doesn’t feel like it is right on the street overlooking people’s houses.”
Sites said he viewed the meeting with the planning board as a chance to ensure the community supports the proposal.
John Kosnow, a member of the planning board, asked whether the organization intends to complete a comprehensive investigation into the building to confirm its structural integrity.
Sites said the organization would certainly look into structural integrity, but only after completing the initial stages of the project.
“We are not at the point in the process where we can do any sort of engineering work. We aren’t even at the point in the process where we can do a market analysis to ensure 32 units is sustainable in the region. We know that it is, but that is part of the process for us, to do that market analysis,” Sites said.
Sites said that during the site visit he noticed water leaking into the building and some bricks that need to be repointed.
Kosnow asked about mold in the building.
“The mold that exists currently was not a concern for us, but we aren’t experts. It was not really a concern for our architect,” Sites said, adding that the organization would bring in a remediation expert before starting the project.
“Our funding sources are going to require all of that. It is a really arduous process,” Sites said.
Scott Simpson, chair of the planning board, asked Sites if Volunteers of America would conduct a cost-benefit analysis.
“As a nonprofit, every dollar to us is precious. We do our due diligence, not only because it is required by our funding sources, but we are going to own these buildings for 50-plus years and we need to know that this is an appropriate investment for us long term,” Sites said.
Potential funding sources include U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development programs, according to Sites. He gave the project cost as $6.2 million.
Volunteers of America is a 501(c)(3) organization, according to Sites.
The former A.D. Gray middle school has been vacant since Medomak Middle School opened in 2009.
The Waldoboro Board of Selectmen voted in June to broaden the mandate of the A.D. Gray Committee to consider multiple options for the future of the property.
The committee was set up in July 2019 to examine the potential sale of the school to Portland developer Tim Wells. The committee may now consider and make recommendations regarding multiple proposals and may issue a request for proposals under its new mandate.
Wells has proposed to redevelop the former school into 20-27 housing units, with additional development on the property depending on demand.
Selectmen Robert Butler and Jann Minzy, Town Manager Julie Keizer, and residents Bruce Metrick and Freeman Zausner sit on the committee.