Maplewood School Has a Bidder, The Gloucester Times, March 6, 2012

By Steven Fletcher
Staff Writer

Eight years of frustrated attempts at developing the Maplewood School have left it in an  all-too-familiar position ” boarded up and falling apart.

But while the century-old schoolhouse foiled several developer’s efforts, Harborlight Community Partners has formally decided take a shot at it.

Harborlight, a nonprofit affordable housing development corporation based in Beverly, filed the only bid for the Maplewood School, ending the city’s month-long Request for Proposal process.

The city aims to sell the property for $250,000, but has not awarded the contract yet. Harborlight, meanwhile, proposes to build 12 units of affordable elderly housing on the site, with some associated office space.

And, following the route it has taken in other communities, the development firm, despite its nonprofit status, is agreeing to pay local property taxes on the property.

The proposal expects the entire development to cost about $2.7 million, and take around two years at the minimum.

The nonprofit’s bid marks its third major foray into the Cape Ann affordable housing market over the last four months.

Late last year, Harborlight acquired the Pigeon Cove Ledges project in Rockport to prevent the units from turning market-rate. In January, Harborlight merged with the community land trust of Cape Ann, and took over managing 51 affordable first-time buyer housing units in Gloucester.

At Maplewood, the nonprofit faces the same problems that former developers did: how to deal with the hazardous materials inside the school building.

In 2005, Alpine Builders, one of the former developers, estimated removing those materials would cost around $600,000.

Harborlight’s proposal states that the remediation costs won’t exceed $100,000. But, the corporation’s proposal ” which has not been accepted by the city ” indicates that it would like the city to clean out the building, and would tack the $100,000 onto the $250,000 purchase price for the city to carryout the work.

“The third-party estimate to remediate and remove this material is just under $100,000,” the report indicates, “(Harborlight) will pay the city $350,000 for the building with the expectation that this remediation is done by the city and documented before the execution of the sale.”

Harborlight executive director Andrew DeFranza said Monday night that his corporation is asking the city to do that because it’s less risky than attempting to handle the remediation itself.

“We’re prepared to find a way to work with the city (and neighbors) in a way that’s viable for (everyone),” he said.

While the company has put the proposal forward, DeFranza says Harborlight still has some concerns with the site on Maplewood Avenue.

According to the proposal, Harborlight expects to enter into a purchase of the property as soon as May, but won’t close on the property until it has the money for it. To that end, Harborlight expects to draw funding from loans, gifts, and local and regional funding, through Community Preservation Act, city and regional HOME and trust funding.

The company has pegged the financial closing for June 2013. The bid proposal is contingent on the Harborlight Board of Directors’ formal approval in April as well. Harborlight has taken out a $250,000 loan for the property.

After tackling those concerns, Harborlight plans to turn the former schoolhouse into a dozen elderly housing units.

The development would include 12 to 15 parking spaces, and would house residents 62 years or older, or 50 years old with a disability.

The company, according to the proposal, will attempt to keep the building’s exterior intact.

Harborlight’s proposal calls for construction to start in August of 2013, with an eye toward completion by that December.

Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or sfletcher@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.