The owner of the former Maine Girls Academy off Stevens Avenue in Portland wants a zone change to allow commercial uses at the site. Kate Irish Collins / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — The developers who own a former girls’ school off Stevens Avenue are seeking a zone change that would allow a variety of new commercial uses at the site.

Kevin Bunker and Matt Teare, of Developers Collaborative, held a neighborhood meeting June 19 to outline their plan for the building that was once home to Catherine McAuley High School and later The Maine Girls Academy.

The school sits at the corner of Stevens Avenue and Walton Street in the Deering section of the city and is home to several nonprofits, including the Portland Farmers Market.

This image shows the layout for five new condo buildings on the Stevens Avenue campus that also houses the former St. Joseph’s Convent. Contributed

The building is adjacent to the former St. Joseph’s Convent, which Bunker, Teare and business partner John Wasileski recently renovated into 88 apartments for residents 55 and over.

Now called the Motherhouse on Stevens Square, the building, which opened in late fall, retains many of its historic features, including an iconic gold dome and a restored chapel.

With the Motherhouse fully leased, Bunker said he and Teare are now ready to move forward on the next phase of their project, which includes five new buildings that would house market-rate condominiums.

This week Bunker said the hope is to break ground on the first of the planned condo buildings sometime this summer. The first building, which would house 21 units, would be built just to the south of the Motherhouse, near a historic grotto.

The Developers Collaborative already has all the city approvals it needs to begin work on what it’s calling Stevens Square at Baxter Woods. All of the units would also be reserved for those 55 and over.

Marketing materials for the new condos, which are expected to sell for around $300,000, tout their location and shared amenities such as a fully equipped exercise studio, theater, walking paths, community gardens, and fire pits, among others.

In all, Bunker said the Developers Collaborative plans to construct 161 units in addition to the 88 already created at the Motherhouse.

With nearly 250 units of housing at their Stevens Avenue campus, Bunker and Teare feel strongly that there’s a need for more commercial amenities, from a fitness center to artists studios and professional offices.

This week Bunker said the former girls’ school offers the “biggest and best chance to bring outside activity onto the campus.”

The school is located in the Residential 5 zone, and Bunker and Teare are seeking rezoning to a mixed business zone that would allow them to create what they called a community center or community hall. The goal would be to attract local businesses and not lease space to national chains.

Bunker said the school consists of about 25,000 square feet of usable classroom space, plus a gymnasium and an auditorium that could be leased to a local theater group, for instance.

The Developers Collaborative already has a prospective tenant who’s interested in reusing the indoor pool area to offer everything from yoga classes to personal trainers to more traditional gym memberships.

Bunker said between 50 and 60 residents turned out for last week’s neighborhood meeting and that, for the most part, the proposed reuse of the former girls’ school was well received. Overall, he called the meeting “very collaborative.”

He and Teare purchased the former school from Wasileski last year and had a long-term lease with The Maine Girls Academy, which suddenly closed in July 2018.

The academy was forced to close only two years after transitioning from the Catholic-based Catherine McAuley to a secular school after finding itself deeply in debt and without the enrollment support needed to sustain programming.

Before closing, The Maine Girls Academy was the only all-girls high school program in Maine, a tradition that first started back in 1877.

Bunker said changing the zone from R5 to some type of business zone is necessary because the uses allowed in the residential zone are too limited. The current zoning, he said, “allows very few uses that actually make sense in that building.”

He said the next step is to formally apply to the city for a zone change, which requires both Planning Board and City Council action.

Bunker said the timeline for redevelopment of the school building would be dependent on the city process, but said it’s his hope they can soon establish some version of the health club.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 780-9097 or [email protected] Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

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