Finding a new purpose: Easthampton receives three housing proposals for former elementary schools

By EMILY THURLOW

Staff Writer

Published: 03-22-2023 11:30 AM

EASTHAMPTON — The former classrooms inside the three 100-year-old elementary school buildings could one day become the living quarters of city residents based on the three redevelopment proposals pitched for the buildings.

The City Council declared the Center, Pepin and Maple elementary schools surplus and no longer necessary for municipal use last September and a request for proposals to redevelop the buildings went out the following month. The city received three housing-related proposals, all of which contain an element of affordable housing, from that request. They include:

■ The NHP Foundation, a New York City nonprofit that creates multifamily housing for low- to moderate-income families and seniors, is proposing to purchase all three schools for $500,000 and convert them into 69 units of housing.

■Arch Communities LLC, registered to Richard Relich of Needham, is proposing to purchase the three schools for $1.2 million for development of 61 units of mixed-income housing.

■ Way Finders Inc., the Springfield affordable housing development nonprofit, wants to buy only Maple Street School for $1 to redevelop the site into 54 new housing units.

Per state procurement laws, all three bid packages will be evaluated using a formula approved by the City Council, Mayor Nicole LaChapelle said.

The primary goal identified in the request for proposals is to support the creation of affordable housing in one or all of the buildings. According to the Housing Production Plan, the city must produce 38 units of affordable housing annually to reach the 10% affordability threshold set by the state, which is 227 units. A secondary goal involved development that supports community benefits such as public parking and playgrounds.

The evaluation criteria include affordable housing, possible retention of the Pepin gym and cafeteria/auditorium, responsive design and environmental sustainability.

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“I was excited to see the planning efforts reflected in each application,” LaChapelle said in a statement.

NHP Foundation idea

The NHP Foundation proposal includes redeveloping all three former schools into an “active family community” tentatively named the School Yard Apartments. The application proposes 69 units of housing that are affordable to families with incomes between 30% and 80% of area median income. The renovated properties will include 28 one-bedroom units; 22 two-bedroom units; seven, two-bedroom loft units, and 12 three-bedroom units.

The NHP Foundation notes in its application that the properties will include 87 on-site parking spaces for residential use and an additional 19 public parking spaces.

Each residential property will feature a community room, laundry facility and bike storage for use by residents. The properties will also include public amenities, such as a community garden, dog park and playground.

The nonprofit is currently leading a $100 million redevelopment of Blue Mountain Apartments in Roxbury, and has redeveloped several other properties in the country, including Sunset Bay Apartments, a 308-unit multifamily property in Cutler Bay, Florida.

Arch Communities pitch

The application from Arch Communities calls for redeveloping the three schools into mixed-income housing, including one studio apartment, 31 one-bedroom apartments, 15 two-bedroom apartments and 14 three-bedroom apartments.

According to the application, the majority of 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 also notes that the auditorium at Pepin will feature community amenities including a large community room with kitchen, a library/computer room and a fitness/wellness area. The gym at Pepin will remain as a gym and available for city use. Each building will have central laundry facilities and resident storage “where possible,” the application states.

In his letter to the city, Relich explained that in 2015 Arch Communities completed the redevelopment of the former Easthampton Dye Works mill complex into 50 affordable apartments on Cottage Street.

Relich also noted that Arch Communities was recently selected by the town of Southbridge to redevelop the decommissioned Mary E. Wells Junior High School into 62 units of mixed-income housing.

Way Finders plans

Way Finders, the largest nonprofit developer of affordable housing in western Massachusetts, has proposed redeveloping only Maple Street School, which originally opened as an eight-room schoolhouse illuminated by gas lamps in 1897, into 54 new housing units.

Approximately 38 units will be dedicated to those earning less than 80% of the area median income, “of which 20 will provide deeper affordability with project-based vouchers,” according to the application. The rest of the units will be market-rate housing.

More than 60% of the units proposed will include two- and three-bedroom apartments.

Among the community amenities, Way Finders is proposing 14 public parking spaces on Chapel Street, some of which will have electric vehicle-charging stations. The agency is also proposing creating a new playground and park area at the intersection of Chapel and Maple streets, and an indoor community room that faces the park area available to area residents and the general public.

What’s next?

LaChapelle anticipates she’ll name a committee to score each bid package this week. From there, the committee will present their consensus-based evaluation to the City Council.

City Planner Jeff Bagg had estimated in a previous report that the council would have the recommendation before it by April.

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