Details on the $1 sale of a Portland school

Yesterday I filed a story on the proposed sale and redevelopment of Portland’s Nathan Clifford School, an approximately 46,000-square-foot building on about 67,000 square feet of property in the Oakdale neighborhood.

(BDN photo by Seth Koenig)

If the City Council accepts the recommendation of its subcommittee, the city will sell the century-plus-old school to Developers Collaborative for $1, with the agreement that the developers will include 18,000 square feet of public space (basically saving the playing fields and playgrounds already on-site for continued public use) and $15,000 in infrastructure improvements in their plans.

More on that in yesterday’s storyclick here.

Today, I was able to connect with Kevin Bunker of Developers Collaborative to talk more about the project, which will be the topic of a neighborhood meeting tonight at 5:30 p.m. right there at the school.

Bunker confirmed that asbestos, lead paint and water leakage problems cited as redevelopment challenges for the site in 2012 by a city task force were never remediated, and will be his to deal with if the sale is completed.

“Everybody thinks an old building is worth $1 million or more, but it can be a challenge to make those projects work,” he said. “It typically costs more than new construction, but obviously you’re getting the historic character — that you can’t reproduce — and you can qualify for historic tax credits.”

He also said his firm is estimating the renovation project, in which the end goal will be to insert about 18 market-rate units in the old school, will cost between $6 million and $7 million. As I wrote yesterday, density requirements in that R-5 residential zone limit the site to 22 units, which make those units fairly large in that building and, to be cost effective, almost force the developer to seek market rates (as opposed to so-called “affordable” or federally subsidized rates).

Bunker’s group has done multiple affordable housing projects in the past, including in former schools in Biddeford and Waterville, but the Nathan Clifford School project will not be. He said he’ll be seeking between $1.60-$1.70 in rent per square foot, so for a 1,000-square-foot unit, that’d make a rental of $1,600-$1,700.

He also said, as the comment above indicates, that he’ll seek state and federal tax breaks designed to create incentives for redeveloping historical properties.

Some upcoming dates to mark in your calendar, in addition to tonight’s neighborhood meeting, if you’re interested in this project as it goes forward. Next Monday night, Bunker expects the $1 sale to be considered by the larger City Council, and the following night, on Tuesday, he’s scheduled to approach the Planning Board for a workshop on his plans for the property.

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Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.