WESTBROOK – Avesta Housing celebrated the grand opening of the final piece of Hyacinth Place on Friday, marking the completion of the 37-unit apartment project, which includes two rehabbed historic Westbrook buildings.

The event showcased the significance of the historic renovation of the former St. Hyacinth Church buildings, as well as preservation of Walker Field, and featured remarks from Westbrook Mayor Colleen Hilton, Avesta officials and Earle Shettleworth, Maine’s state historian.

Avesta employees were also on hand to provide tours of both the new and rehabbed apartment buildings. The large brick building, at 2 Walker St., was built in 1893, and served as the St. Hyacinth Parochial School until the 1960s. In 1921, a convent was built next to the school, and was also included in the rehabilitation into apartments.

Mindy Woerter, Avesta’s communications manager, said Friday that when the company acquired the buildings, they were vacant and needed extensive repairs.

Greg Payne, a development officer for Avesta, said during his remarks Friday that the project began three years ago, as a collaboration between Avesta and Developers Collaborative, both of Portland.

“Now, where there had been virtually deserted buildings in serious disrepair, and a field that was incredibly underutilized, we now have 37 highly efficient, high-quality apartments, and a field that we hope will be a focal point of community interaction for a long time to come,” he said.

St. Hyacinth sold the buildings as part of the Catholic diocese’s restructuring campaign. The new building, which sits adjacent to the old brick buildings of St. Hyacinth, has added a community room for the apartments’ residents.

During the event, Hilton said that when projects such as these are first rolled out, there is often an initial reaction of “fear and lots of negativity.”

However, she thanked city officials for their hard work in seeing the project through.

“If you’ve lived in Westbrook a long time, and have walked this neighborhood, it’s been somewhat derelict and abandoned,” she said. “To see this type of life happening now is really refreshing, and it’s beautiful.”

Hilton also said that many people at the opening event told her that they attended the St. Hyacinth School, and were happy to see it renovated.

Shettleworth, who is the director of the Maine Historic Preservation Office, said Friday that projects such as these bring Maine’s old buildings “back to life.”

Shettleworth also provided some historical background on the buildings, including the fact that when the school was built, it was made to accommodate 400 students and teachers, and that the architect of the school served in the Civil War.

“We reflect on the important place in Maine history of Franco-American Catholic tradition, represented by these historic buildings in Westbrook,” he said. “Most importantly, we embrace the future role of these two revitalized structures in the life of the community.”

Shettleworth’s office administered state and federal historic tax credits that assisted in financing the development.

Monique Rodrigue, who has lived in an apartment in the rehabbed school building since last fall, said Friday that she and her husband have “enjoyed every minute of it.”

Rodrigue said when the couple decided to move back to Maine, and began looking for apartments, she became discouraged. She said they had trouble finding all the things they found necessary for a “happy home life.”

“Two months later, I came across the Hyacinth Place website and it was like a beacon of light shining down from the heavens. We have it all, many big windows in all the rooms, high ceilings with fans, wood floors, and a setting of a family community,” she said.

According to figures from Avesta, the project paid $71,839 in development-related fees to Westbrook, and will provide $46,259 in annual property taxes to the city.

The project is another example of what is seen as a need for affordable housing for families and seniors in Westbrook, with Avesta often competing with Westbrook Housing for funding sources for projects. Westbrook Housing plans to add more units to its Millbrook Estates senior housing facility.

While not directly related, Avita of Stroudwater recently opened a memory care center off Spring Street, and plans to construct additional senior housing as part of the development.

According to an Avesta press release, Hyacinth Place provides efficiency, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments to households making 50 percent to 60 percent of area median income.

The property’s amenities include a community room with kitchenette and free Wi-Fi, 24-hour emergency maintenance, a resident service coordinator, on-site laundry, and a number of green features, including a high-efficiency heating system.

“There’s no shortage of housing need in our community or the Greater Portland community,” Hilton said Friday. “The provision of affordable family housing is just a wonderful thing for the city of Westbrook, and we appreciate everything that’s been done to get us to this point.”

On hand to celebrate the opening of Avesta Housing’s Hyacinth Place in Westbrook Friday are, from left, Earle Shettleworth, Maine’s state historian; Westbrook Mayor Colleen Hilton and Hyacinth Place resident Monique Rodrigue. There are 37 apartments spread among three buildings. The most recent building to be completed can be seen in the background. 

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