SOUTH PORTLAND – Concern expressed by neighborhood residents about the size of a proposed repurposing project of the former Roosevelt Elementary School at 317 Pine St., has the City Council leaning toward the smaller of two development proposals.

The South Portland Housing Authority, which offered $525,000, wants to add a 5,600 square-foot addition to the three-story brick schoolhouse to create 40 living units for residents 55 years of age and older. Anew Property Development of Portland, meanwhile, would add 10,000 square feet to the building, enough to create 19 market-rate condo units aimed at residents 40 and older. Its offer was $218,500.

While most residents at a Nov. 13 council workshop expressed support for elderly housing – SPHA currently has a three-year waiting list, according to the agency’s executive director Michael Hulsey – only a few declared it a preferred use. The majority expressed concern that 40 units, each with visiting relatives, could overburden local roads, while frequent rescue calls might overtax local patience.

“It just feels like it’s overreaching for the area,” said Mussey Street resident Suzanne Woodward, of the SPHA proposal.

Constructed in 1927, and designed by noted architects John Calvin Stevens and John Howard Stevens, Roosevelt Elementary was closed in 1983. In 1985, the 13,000-square-foot building was leased to Spurwink Services, which used it as a K-10 school for the developmentally disabled. In July 2012, with its South Portland program down to just 22 students, Spurwink gave a one-year notice on its lease, following a decision to consolidate services in Portland. Although responsible for the building through this past June, Spurwink was out of the building by the end of November 2012.

The city showed the school to nearly 20 prospective buyers, but received just three submitted bids by the Oct. 17 deadline and only two were deemed worth considering, the third being for just $24,000.

Residents expressed faith that either of the two bidders would ably preserve the historic fac?ade of the building. However, many liked Anew’s site design, which incorporated a path allowing locals to transverse the property.

A third factor tipping the scale in Anew’s favor was the assertion of developer Ethan Boxer-Macomber that, as a private entity, he could “hit the ground running” and get the building back on the tax rolls in short order. Because much of its funding depends on state and federal grants, the application period of which is up to a year away, Hulsey had to admit that a full redevelopment could be in the long term, while SPHA, as a nonprofit, would only make payment to the city in lieu of taxes that discounts the school side of most property tax bills.

Of the six councilors present, all but outgoing member Al Livingston expressed a clear reference for the Anew proposal.

After the meeting, however, Hulsey said SPHA could easily lower the number of housing units in its proposal to any figure the council would like.

City Manager Jim Gailey said the bid offers will return to the City Council in mid-December. The city hopes to transfer ownership before the winter heating season hits in earnest, he said.

Roosevelt School on Pine Street in South Portland is the subject of several bids, which range in price and usage. Neighbors have expressed concern about the possibility the former school could be repurposed as senior housing.

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