New Life For Old School Apartments: Residents Back Rockport’s CPA Project, Gloucester Times, August 24, 2012

Marjorie Nesin

Staff Writer

” ROCKPORT ” Anita Bernia graduated from Rockport High School in 1945, when the school was still located on Broadway.

Now, 67 years later, Anita lives in the very same room where she learned to type at
school ” and, she loves it.

I never thought I’d be living here, can you imagine?!,  85-year-old Bernia said,
tipping her head back to laugh. But, she said of the Rockport High School
apartment she has lived in for 11 years, It’s comfortable and safe, and I like
it here. 

The old high school became an administrative building in the 1980s, when the school
relocated to what is now the library. The old high school building was later
renovated into an affordable housing apartment complex with 31 units in 1997.

Since then, the current owners’ 15-year lease from the town has reached a natural
pause, and the company has placed the apartment complex on the affordable
market, where Harborlight Community Partners hopes to scoop up ownership.

Rockport Selectmen have approved a proposal for Harborlight to take over the lease,
allowing them to buy out the current owners’ interest in the complex,
effectively giving the nonprofit development corporation control of the parcel,
on one condition. If residents vote at Fall Town Meeting to approve giving
Harborlight $250,000 in Community Preservation Funds, the selectmen will extend
the land lease to Harborlight for 99 years, simultaneously requiring
Harborlight to sign off on an agreement to rent the complex as affordable
housing for 99 years.

It’s as long of a lease as possible,  Harborlight’s Executive Director Andrew
DeFranza said. It’s making the arrangement as long as it can be. 

If, for some reason, the lease is not bought out by Harborlight or another
non-profit, it might eventually move to the open market, where a new owner
could rent the apartments at a competitive price. That possibility is grim to
residents, most of whom are retired and living on fixed incomes.

I don’t imagine it would be happy news to hear, Bernia said. It would be very
upsetting to disrupt all the people here. 

Kathy Hurlburt, who manages the apartments, has been reassuring her residents that if
Harborlight purchases the lease, the complex and the way it runs will go
unchanged for the most part, excluding some minor renovations and cosmetic
work. Hurlburt knows this from experience, she said; as she also manages Pigeon
Cove Ledges, the Rockport complex that the Beverly-based Harborlight took over
last year.

Pigeon Cove Ledges underwent some major renovations in Harborlight’s care, including
the installation of an elevator and sprinkler system. Though Rockport High
School Apartments require significantly less renovations, there would still be
repairs here and there, according to DeFranza, who said Harborlight would
replace windows, lay new bricks on the facade and do a full cosmetic sweep,
spending between $100,000 and $175,000.

Hurlburt is already working on replacing some of the building’s carpeting. On a
community table rests a board with carpet samples with a pair of pink rimmed
reading glasses perched atop. Hurlburt has asked residents to vote on the new
carpet color, using the samples to decide, and the communal glasses to read the
titles, if necessary. Stone grey and spring green are locked in a dead heat,
for now, each with two votes.

Still, beyond the carpet, or above it really, Harborlight would reconstruct some
windows. Many apartments feature sprawling windows that slide up to open, but
others, especially in an annex section of the building, house smaller windows
that tip open from the top, preventing residents from installing air
conditioner units.

Resident Mary Ann Camp lives in one of the apartments with the smaller, tipping windows. Glass panes aside, Camp loves her apartment, and the proximity of her best
friend, Margaret Williams, who was also her college roommate at Texas-based
Hardin-Simmons University’s nursing school.

As a Boston University graduate student in the 1960s, Camp frequented Rockport,
sitting on a downtown bench to work on her thesis. In those days of writing and
rewriting, she decided to someday retire in Rockport. Williams, after years in
Tampa, moved to Rockport to join Camp at Rockport High School Apartments.

As we mature ” we don’t use the words ˜getting older’ ” we need a little more
looking after,  Camp said.

Added Williams, We take care of each other here. If you don’t see someone for a
couple days, you knock on their door. We really like it. 

Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at