Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Vacant schools can become affordable senior housing. Who'd have guessed???

Did you see the recent article in Brunswick's local paper? It reports that the Brunswick Housing Authority is interested in converting a vacant hundred year old school in Lisbon Falls into "affordable senior housing!"

Wow...what an innovative idea! I'm impressed. Take a nice old cherished building, abandoned by its owners, and turn it into something useful, rather than just bulldoze it out of the way. And in the process, preserve a landmark "for Maine's future."

Is this what they mean by "re-purposing??"

Check out the details; a Brunswick authority looking for property a few towns away. And it looks like they could get it for nothing, or within $1 of nothing.

If only there had been opportunities like this closer to home! Too bad Brunswick itself didn't have any vacant school buildings that could be turned into affordable senior housing.

I'm sorry, did you say something? What's that? Brunswick DID HAVE a vacant school building that could have become affordable senior housing? Right here in town?

Nahhh. Seriously? Well then why didn't the town do it?

Because why? Because it would cost too much? And it wasn't feasible? Says who?

Oh yeah....the memories are starting to come back. I remember now.

A group of volunteers got together to look into saving the old Brunswick High School by converting it into affordable senior housing, which seems to be a popular way of doing things around the state. They got in touch with folks who do this sort of thing for a living, and who know the ins and outs of the various grant mechanisms and tax incentives. And that group made a proposal to the council, and showed examples of where the process has worked elsewhere in the state.

Nice job, the council said, but "we don't think it will work." And then the council got some other folks to provide some estimates for conversion. Way too expensive, they said. The public won't support it. But what about asking for proposals, the volunteer group asked? Not necessary, the council said, we know what we need to know. It can't be made to work.

Which makes one wonder why the Lisbon Falls building can be made to work, even though it is considerably older than the old Brunswick High School.

Other Side has a theory on this, and it's really quite simple. It all boils down to what the powers to be want, and what will best serve their purpose.

In the case of the Lisbon Falls property, reading the published report makes it look like there were no competing plans for the property itself, and the town has found itself a patron who will turn the school into something of value again.

In the case of the old Brunswick High School, the "schoolies" had set their sights on the real estate to build a largely unnecessary new school as a monument to community pride and free money that feeds it. And you never want to mess with the "schoolies."

Which means that the fix was pretty much in from the start. Some might suggest that letting the volunteer reuse group go through their exercise was a cruel charade to delude the public; you can decide for yourself.

This reporter prefers to remain objective in such matters. Because if I didn't, I'd be forced to conclude that the old saw about "all politics are local" has an unsavory meaning, and that wouldn't be charitable, would it?

Meanwhile, we can only wonder what would happen if the council was to insert itself in the possible project in Lisbon Falls. Strange as that may sound.

I'm sorry...what did you say?????

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