October 21, 2013

Portland City Council to vote on $1 price for school

The Housing and Community Development Committee proposes the nominal amount to preserve open space as the former Nathan Clifford Elementary School is sold to a developer.

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The City Council on Monday is scheduled to vote on a proposal to sell the former Nathan Clifford Elementary School to a local developer for $1.

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The council’s Housing and Community Development Committee recommended the $1 sale over an alternative proposal that would have brought in $200,000 for the 104-year-old school on Falmouth Street.

City Councilor and Chairman Nicholas Mavodones Jr. said the committee chose the nominal sale price in order to preserve more open space. It would be “shortsighted” of the city to get the highest price for the school, he said.

“You have to look at the big picture,” Mavodones said. “The committee felt strongly about maintaining that open space. It makes a lot of sense.”

The Developer’s Collaborative plans to turn the former school into as many as 22 market-rate apartments. Part of its original proposal included building two homes on what is currently open space.

Kevin Bunker, the principal of the Developer’s Collaborative, presented the two purchase options to the committee. The committee’s decision has its pluses and minuses, he said. Developers will not be able to sell two houses and lots to generate revenue, he said, but will not have to pay out of pocket for the building, which requires extensive cleanup of asbestos.

“We’re probably a little worse off than if we paid the $200,000,” Bunker said, before noting the benefits. “With a lot of these historic buildings you have to get them for next to nothing to make it work” financially.

Bunker said estimated rents range from $1,100 for a 646-square-foot unit to $2,400 for a 1,420-square-foot unit.

If the additional structures were built, only 6,000 square feet of public open space would remain. Without the construction, the public open space grows to about 18,000 square feet.

The school was closed in 2011, when students began attending the new Ocean Avenue Elementary School. A city task force that studied potential reuses of the building described the school as the “heart and soul of the Oakdale neighborhood.”

Only two developers responded to the city’s request for proposals. The other respondent was Community Housing of Maine, which proposed an affordable house project that would have required a zone change – something the task force opposed.

The former school has 44,000 square feet of floor space and sits on a lot of approximately 1½ acres.

Clifford School was designed by renowned architect John Calvin Stevens. It is named after U.S. Supreme Court Justice Nathan Clifford, whose grandson, also named Nathan Clifford, served as Portland’s mayor in 1906 when the school’s construction began.

The city has designated the school, which opened its doors to students in 1909, as a historic landmark, which would require any exterior changes to be reviewed by the city’s Historic Preservation Committee.

The school is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The city plans to seek that designation so the project can be eligible for historic tax credits.

The project is expected to generate $78,000 a year in additional property taxes.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

rbillings@pressherald.com

Twitter: @randybillings

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Today's poll: Nathan Clifford School

Should Portland sell the Nathan Clifford School for redevelopment?

Yes

No

View Results