Empty schools could be converted to housing

The public will have the opportunity to speak on the proposal for the empty Memorial Boulevard Middle School building on March 25 before the city’s Real Estate Committee takes any action on the matter.
Last week, the committee heard proposals on two of the vacant school buildings in the city, Memorial Boulevard and Jennings school. The city’s Purchasing Agent Roger Rousseau recently closed the Request for Proposal’s on those two schools, as well as the former Bingham school building, which did not receive any official bids.
There was one bid on the Memorial Boulevard school building from Summit Real Estate Strategies of Massachusetts, which is proposing to turn the school into a residential “arts colony” that includes a fitness center and will preserve the current theater, with some upgrades.
“We are looking to make a nice community here,” Scott Rouisse, president of the company, said at last week’s Real Estate Committee meeting. “We want to create a 24/7 facility that will be used on a regular basis.”
The plan calls for 30 “high-end loft” apartments, a fitness center in the basement that would be used by tenants and the community, and the theater, which would be planned to be used by theater groups, as well as a place for corporate seminars and events and other community events. The upgrades would consist of new sound, lighting, and a cinema screen that will drop down. Also, there will be improvements to the back-stage area.
Michael Abbott, of Northeast Collaborative Architects out of Rhode Island, said he has been through the building twice and “is in love with it.”
“The building is an important historical property,” Abbott told the committee, and added that the integrity of the building and historic qualities will remain if this proposal is approved. The company said it will not do anything to the exterior of the building, other than maintenance, and will keep its “historic look” with no additions.
The fields next to the school building will remain as city property, and Abbott said will be good to have in conjunction with the wellness center. He also said he has spoken with Renaissance Downtowns, the city’s preferred downtown developer, and has received positive feedback.
Abbott said each classroom will be turned into a loft, and the intent is to keep the high ceilings, windows and even the blackboards for artists to utilize. There will be 10 units on each floor, according to the plan, and will range from small to larger units. The floor layout will be the same on each floor, and the third floor would be used for office space for non-profits, theater groups and other organizations if they were interested.
“We are going to create a real community, yet still work within the wants for the building,” Abbott said, adding that the basement will be the fitness center, and the plan expects to open up the pool and use the basketball court and locker rooms as well.
City Councilor Ken Cockayne, who sits on the Real Estate Committee, said he was “excited” about the proposal and added it is what he wants to see in that building.
There will be a public hearing on March 25 at 6 p.m. in Council Chambers for anyone wanting to speak on the proposal. Summit is expected to make a presentation at the hearing, and the plans are available at City Hall for viewing.
Rousseau said he received three bids on the John J. Jennings school, which sits on Burlington Avenue. One was from the Bristol Housing Authority, who is looking to turn the building into a residential community for the elderly.
Lou Trajcevski of Newcastle Housing Ventures, LLC., said the housing authority would construct 32 rental apartments, 27 being one-bedroom and five two-bedroom, as well as a community room and a few offices. The expected development cost is $6.6 million, and Trajcevski said the housing authority would seek a state historic tax credit, a construction and permanent mortgage and a good chunk of the funds through the Department of Economic and Community Development funding initiative, if it were chosen. The apartments would be tiered rents based on the tenant’s income level, ranging from $700 to $775 for the one-bedroom apartments, and $800 to $920 for the two-bedroom apartments.
Another proposal for Jennings was from Martin Laviero Contractors, and Greg Laviero said the company would plan to raze the building and construct 12 to 14 lots.
“We feel that will fit that neighborhood best,” Laviero said.
The third proposal came from Ed D’Amato of D’Amato Construction, who said he would plan to construct an elderly housing community as well.
The Real Estate Committee asked the three bidders for Jennings to supply any additional information to the committee for the next meeting, before it would move forward with any decisions.
The RFP for the former Clara T. O’Connell school building was not closed yet as of last week, and Rousseau said he did not receive RFP responses for the Bingham school building by the deadline, but did receive a late entry from someone who wanted to walk through the building.