PORTLAND — The Planning Board unanimously approved a $5.5 million project Tuesday night that will transform the former Adams Elementary School on Munjoy Hill into 16 condominiums designed for working families.

Officials from Avesta Housing, the nonprofit agency that developed the project, said construction will likely start in November.

The condos will be two- and three-bedroom units, ranging in size from 977 to 1,505 square feet, available to families whose household incomes are no more than 120 percent of the area’s median income. On Munjoy Hill, that equals about $80,000 a year.

“They’re actually livable spaces,” said Planning Board member Michael Patterson. “I think it’s a great project.”

The development will be on a 0.73-acre site between Vesper, Moody, Wilson and Munjoy streets. The original design, proposed in 2008, called for a 40-unit development on that entire city block, but the recession significantly damaged the project’s finances.

As part of the redesign, the project won’t use a city-owned parcel on the corner of Moody and Munjoy streets, which now contains a public parking lot.

The City Council approved the development in May, so Avesta will likely send the project out for bids in early September, said Ethan Boxer-Macomber, the agency’s director of acquisitions and assets.

In addition to the condos, the project includes a proposed public park named Marada Adams Park. The park will include significant green space and picnic tables, as well as swings, a spiral slide, a sand play area, a small climbing wall and other attractions for children. Avesta will donate the park to the city.

According to Avesta’s staff, the condominiums will cost $225,000 to $275,000. They will cost about $375,000 each to develop, Boxer-Macomber said, but about $1.7 million in federal stimulus money will help to lower the cost for buyers.

The money comes from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, a federal program that helps communities that suffer from foreclosures and abandonment.

If bids come back in October lower than expected – a real possibility, with many contractors hungry for work – the price of the condominiums could be reduced further.

“We’re a nonprofit and our fees are fixed,” Boxer-Macomber said, “so every dollar we save will go directly to the buyer.”

Last month, Avesta demolished the former Adams School, a 1950s building that closed in 2006 when the East End Community School opened.

Because of significant asbestos issues, demolition costs skyrocketed from an anticipated $120,000 to about $250,000, Avesta officials said. The site also had significant environmental contamination, which will take about $400,000 to clean up.

Because of those costs, the developer will no longer seek LEED certification, a designation from the U.S. Green Building Council that certifies buildings as environmentally friendly.

Avesta will still build the condos according to LEED guidelines, but it won’t seek the certification because that process would cost an extra $40,000, which would in turn raise the price of the condominiums, said Alan Kuniholm, the project’s architect.

According to Avesta officials, the site was contaminated by its previous uses, including a gas station, a grenade manufacturing facility and a lead company. All of those predate the school.

Paul Morrissey, who lives at 82 Munjoy St., near the site, said he worries about the project not receiving LEED certification.

“That would really help resale values,” he said.

Overall, however, Morrissey and other neighbors who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting approved of the project. Carol Morrissette, the Planning Board’s vice chairwoman, also praised the development after voting to approve it.

“I really like this project,” she said. “I’m glad to see something more than one-bedroom apartments going in (to this city).”

Michael Patterson echoed Morrissette’s sentiments, and bemoaned only that the project won’t be bigger.

“I hope at some point we’re able to get more density onto the site,” he said.


Staff Writer Jason Singer can be reached at 791-6437 or at: [email protected]