After a year on the market with no significant bites on the proverbial line, Westbrook government has received a decent offer for the former Prides Corner Elementary School. With the former school building disintegrating due to neglect, it’s an offer the city should seriously consider.

The proposal by South Portland’s Vincent Maietta, owner of V&E Enterprises Inc., would convert the former school and surrounding 9.5-acre lot into 98 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. Maietta has offered to buy the property from the city for $650,000, but needs assurances since the viability of the project rests on the purchase price. To make a profit at a purchase price of $650,000, Maietta said he would need 98 units. That’s a problem for the city since the zone only allows 40 units. So the city can either change the zone or accept less money upfront. Either way, the city needs to act to remove what has become a blight on what could be one of Westbrook’s up-and-coming neighborhoods.

The school parcel is already surrounded by single-family homes and is located in a busy section of Westbrook just off Route 302. As such, the area can surely accommodate more residential use due to its connection to a major transportation artery. Adding to ease of access is its location on the Metro bus line. Plus, Brook Road, which extends across Route 302 from Pride Street, offers a quick link to the turnpike exit in West Falmouth.

The Prides Corner area is bustling, more so now than in recent memory. A Subway sandwich shop has opened in recent years, and there are professional offices newly built nearby. The upscale condominium development at Brydon Farms is a beautiful addition to the area, as well. The former St. Edmund’s Catholic Church, which closed years ago, is now in use again as the First Evangelical Free Church of Maine. So, the area has seen much improvement, and a residential project would only add to the reinvigoration of that area of Westbrook.

Some have wondered whether the influx of 98 new housing units would negatively impact the city’s education system. That might be a legitimate concern if the project were to be subsidized, but Maietta’s plan to build market-rate units means Westbrook will be getting more tax money to help offset the new enrollment. With that said, we don’t believe those living in a community should keep others out just because they may have a family in tow that needs schooling. That’s not fair.

While the city will need to grapple with how much density to allow, one thing is for sure – the former school building has been sitting and deteriorating for a year now. There are reports that mold is beginning to take over. An empty building is a magnet for vandals, and neighbors, some of whom have spent a lot to purchase or rehabilitate their homes and pay their property taxes, deserve better than a vacant city-owned building in their back yard.

Maietta knows what he needs to make the project financially worthwhile. While the property is assessed at $850,000, he’s crunched the numbers and said he’d be able to afford the $650,000 purchase price plus the costs of reconstruction. The city seems to be hesitating on the price, which might not be a wise move. If there were multiple decent offers, perhaps the city would be in a position to haggle. But for the sake of the neighborhood, the city needs to consider Maietta’s offer. Who knows when a better one will come along?

–John Balentine, managing editor

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