Maplewood School Back on Developers’ Table, The Gloucester Times, October 30, 2011

By Steven Fletcher
Staff Writer

Since 2004, Gloucester’s former Maplewood School has frustrated one attempt after another to turn it into something other than a boarded-up vacant schoolhouse.

Now, an affordable and elderly housing developer, Harborlight Community Partners, says it wants to take a shot at the property.

Andrew Defranza, Harborlight’s executive director, says the Beverly-based non-proft is considering the former school house for affordable, independent elderly housing.

He added that it’s still too early to commit to whether the organization will pursue it or not. The city hasn’t issued a request for proposals for the site yet, and Ward 3 Councilor Steven Curcuru says he’d like to see one hit the street before the end of the year.

But the idea is already getting support from the city’s administration.

“It’s a good project, and we’re in support of it,” said Jim Duggan, the city’s chief administrative officer.

Duggan said Harborlight and a handful of other developers approached the city with proposals for the recently boarded up school house on Maplewood Avenue. He said the city will update the former Maplewood School RFP, which currently offers the property for $350,000.

The nonprofit, he said, was most sensitive to neighborhood concerns, and will pay taxes on the property if the city awards them the bid.

Harborlight pays taxes, said Defranza, because it wants to support the community in which it builds. The organization, he said, would like to turn the Maplewood School into 12 affordable elderly housing units. Cape Ann, Defranza added, needs that kind of housing that matches what the city’s demographics show, shifting to an older population.

The nonprofit, he said, wants fill a community need with the project. He said community members contacted Harborlight and asked if the organization could do something with the old school house. He added that the non-profit merged with the North Shore Housing Trust in 2009 and because of that has a some history with Maplewood School. The trust bid on the property in 2007.

“If they (the community) want it, and it’s an viable project, we’ll look to do it,” said Defranza.

Neighbors, said Curcuru, haven’t opposed redeveloping the school.

Steven LeBlanc, resident and candidate for the Ward 3 council seat, said something needs to be done at the the site as well.

“I think it’s a good fit,” he said.

In order to get something to happen at the Maplewood School, Harborlight faces the same problems that derailed Alpine Builder’s 2005 attempt to turn the property into four duplexes; the company estimated it would cost $600,000 to clear the site of hazardous materials, including asbestos.

Defranza said Harborlight will look at what environmental remediation costs will be down the line.

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