EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 10, 2013

Selectmen to decide fate of former school

By Paul Tennant

---- — NORTH ANDOVER — A Lowell non-profit corporation that wants to build affordable housing and retail space on the site of the former Bradstreet School says it has an “exciting plan ... that will add to the vibrancy of downtown North Andover.”

Two selectmen interviewed, Chairman William Gordon and Rosemary Connelly Smedile, said they are keeping open minds on the proposal.

The Coalition for a Better Acre was the only company or organization that responded to a request for proposals on developing the property at 70 Main St. The Coalition offered to buy the property for $300,000, tear down the century-old school and build a two-story structure that would have 5,000 square feet of store space on the first floor and 24 apartments for lower-income people on the second level.

The Coalition for a Better Acre, named after a large working class neighborhood in Lowell, has also asked the town to provide $720,000 in Community Preservation Act money to help finance the construction of the affordable housing. The applicant has requested $5.5 million from the state for the same purpose.

“We have something great to offer,” Emily Rosenbaum, executive director of the Coalition for a Better Acre, told The Eagle-Tribune yesterday. The organization was founded in 1982 and has completed several housing projects in Lowell and other Merrimack Valley communities, she said.

Rosenbaum pointed out that although the Coalition is a non-profit corporation, it will pay the town real estate taxes for the property if the proposal is approved. The corporation now pays Lowell and other cities and towns $537,000 per year in real estate taxes, Rosenbaum said.

Madeline Nash, director of real estate for the Coalition, said the commercial space will have one, two or three stores. The rents for the two- and three-bedroom apartments will vary from $900 to $1,300 per month, she said.

The tenants’ annual household incomes would be limited to $48,000, according to the proposal.

The ball is now in the hands of the Board of Selectmen, which is scheduled to meet Monday at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. Rosenbaum and Nash said they plan to attend this meeting to explain the proposed project.

They will be accompanied by Cheryl Stafford, chairwoman of the board of directors of the Coalition and a vice president of the Enterprise Bank and Trust Co.

Gordon said he is pleased the town received at least one proposal for Bradstreet School. He won’t be ready to vote on the plan until “I hear from the developer,” he said.

“I’m still studying it,” Smedile said. “I do have a few concerns.”

She noted that while the Coalition is offering to buy the property for $300,000, it is asking for $720,000 from the Community Preservation fund to help pay for the project — so the town would actually be spending a net of $420,000.

Other residents have voiced disappointment over those numbers.

Smedile has said she is disappointed that the town has to sell Bradstreet School, which was being considered as the site for a new police station a couple of years ago. It was estimated the town would have had to spend as much as $9 million to rehabilitate the old school, Smedile said.

She attributes that to the state law that requires towns and cities to pay the prevailing hourly wages for construction projects. Smedile, who heads the Connelly Real Estate Co., said a private developer — not governed by the prevailing wage law — could rehabilitate the building for $6 million.

Bradstreet School closed in 2005. The June 12, 2012, annual Town Meeting voted unanimously to authorize the selectmen to sell the property.