Long-Term Housing Article Proposed: Rockport Looks to Secure Old School for 99 Years, Gloucester Times, March 25, 2013

By James Niedzinski
Staff Writer

—- ” ROCKPORT ” Residents of the apartment complex on 4 Broadway recall the days when they were students in the building when it housed the town’s high school.

Now, if voters back an article at the Annual Town Meeting, residents like them will be able to live on the property all the way into the next century.

The article, proposed by the Board of Selectmen, would allow the town to lease the privately owned Rockport High School Apartments, which sit on town land, and preserve the site’s continued use as low- and moderate-income housing for senior citizens from the current expiration date of 2061 right through 2112.

Last year, voters backed an article at the Annual Town Meeting to award $250,000 from the Community Preservation Fund to Harborlight Community Partners, a Beverly-based nonprofit group that advocates affordable housing, a 99-year lease on the building and provide some minor renovations.

Now, it is back up to voters whether or not to agree to the actual 99-year lease on the building that would ensure its use as affordably priced housing.

While Harborlight has agreed to lease the property; the assessing records show the building, valued at $1,132,000 is still owned by M.B. Management Company of Braintree.

Andrew DeFranza, the Executive Director of non-profit, said acquiring the site has taken longer than expected. DeFranza said that getting through all the paperwork associated with a federal Department of Agriculture project such as this can take some time, but the nonprofit company is still on track to lease the property.

Harborlight also renovated Pigeon Cove Ledges after acquiring in in 2011, and DeFranza said that property combined with the Rockport High School Apartments make up about half of the town’s low-income housing portfolio.

The high school complex, built in 1915, houses 31 people. The building was placed onto the National Register of Historic Places in 1997 and had served as town’s high school until the 1980s.

The building still utilizes some of its school past; the original chalk boards remain in place and a frequently used and folding shopping carts hang on former coat hooks.

Kathy Hulburt, who manages both Pigeon Cove and the Rockport High School Apartments said only minor cosmetic work needs to be done, along with replacing appliances such as stoves and refrigerators.

Apartments are only available to those more than 62 years old or anyone who is disabled and Hulburt said there are about 100 people on the wait list to become a resident.

Since becoming an apartment building in 1997, some residents have come full circle.

I couldn’t wait to get out of here,  John Tucker, a former student and current resident of the building, said of his graduation.

Tucker said he now loves his apartment, decorated with a fish artwork made of wastewat treatment chips that escaped out of a New Hampshire treatment plant into the Merrimack River in 2011 and washed up on beaches throughout New England.

Tuck has named his piece Da Filter Fish,  but said he has sculpted as well ” a far cry from his high school days in what is now his home.

I had a reserved seat in the principal’s office,  Tucker joked.

James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at jniedzinski@gloucestertimes.com.