Needham firm outlines plan for $30.4M reuse of Easthampton’s old elementary schools

By EMILY THURLOW

Staff Writer

Published: 03-24-2023 5:12 PM

EASTHAMPTON — The committee tasked with ranking three proposals for the reuse of the city’s three former elementary schools heard detailed explanations from each the development teams this week.

A Needham developer wants to transform the city’s three former school buildings into 61 units of mixed-income housing with a $30.4 million redevelopment proposal.

The development firm, Arch Communities LLC, is known for creating affordable workforce and mixed-income housing throughout New England, according to owner Richard Relich. Arch Communities also has significant experience with historic adaptive reuse projects, he added.

The company has completed school redevelopments in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island, most recently of which includes a vacant school in Worcester County. The former Mary E. Wells High School in Southbridge was converted into 62 units of mixed-income affordable housing.

“This opportunity today is right up our alley,” Relich said. “We’ve been doing projects like this for years … We have the ability to secure the necessary funding sources to make these projects a reality.”

Much like the Southbridge redevelopment, which was completed last year and fully occupied within 120 days, Arch Communities intends to use similar funding sources, such as state and federal historic tax credits as well as low-income housing tax credits.

Relich has estimated that the $30.4 million to redevelop the Easthampton school buildings includes the $1.28 purchase price and $22.2 million in construction costs.

The group anticipates using $4.5 million in federal historic tax credits, $2.8 million in state historic tax credits, $10.3 million in federal low-income housing tax credits, and $3.6 in state low-income housing tax credits.

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The proposal includes transforming the three buildings into one studio apartment, 31 one-bedroom apartments, 15 two-bedroom apartments and 14 three-bedroom apartments. The majority of the rents will be designated as affordable and will range between 30% to 60% of the area median income, with the balance of apartments renting at market rates. Eight of the affordable units will be set aside for residents earning no more than 30% of the area median income level.

The proposal includes retaining Pepin gymnasium and keeping it open for city use. It will feature community amenities such as a large community room and a kitchen, as well as potential uses, including a library and computer room and a fitness wellness area.

“Most of our work on the historic side will focus on using as much of the original building materials as possible, including the main entry lobbies and stairwells, common hallways, the classroom dividing walls and the original woodwork,” said Relich.

Arch Communities also intends on incorporating sustainable and green building practices, such as utilizing paint, adhesives and flooring with low-emitting volatile organic compounds and using high efficiency HVAC systems. They also anticipate pursuing a LEED certification.

Relich estimates a 14-month construction schedule and a six-month period to lease the apartments to attain full occupancy.

The project’s architect is Iric Rex, president and principal of Somerville-based Davis Square Architects, Inc. The general contractor is Kevin Perrier of Five Star Building Corp. in Easthampton.

“As far as the exteriors of the buildings, we see this as a wonderful opportunity to restore three neighborhood buildings to their original condition,” said Rex. “The exteriors will essentially look almost like they did at the very beginning, even window replacements will have to be historically accurate.”

The preliminary timeline for construction is estimated to begin September 2027 and be completed by January 2029. Relich anticipates a full occupancy of the new housing within six months of the completion of construction.

What’s next?

The Elementary School Evaluation Committee is expected to submit a recommendation of the highest ranked proposal to the City Council in the next 10 to 15 days.

From there, the council will review the proposal in the Property Subcommittee and make a final recommendation to the full council, which will hold a public hearing and decide whether to accept the proposal or not.

Public comments on these proposals should be submitted to the City Council.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.]]>