EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 13, 2013

Selectmen discuss Bradstreet sale; no decision yet

By Paul Tennant

---- — NORTH ANDOVER — The selectmen face a difficult decision on the former Bradstreet School at 70 Main St.

Should they accept the lone proposal submitted for the property, the vacant building, which costs roughly $40,000 a year to maintain, will be off the town’s books and more important, a key downtown location will be developed.

The Coalition for a Better Acre, a Lowell non-profit development corporation, proposes putting 5,000 square feet of retail space on the first floor and 24 affordable apartments on the second and third levels.

On the other hand, however, the Coalition has offered to buy the property for $300,000 – and wants the town to kick in $720,000 to help finance what’s expected to be an $8 million project.

That might not be a slam dunk, no-brainer offer, but the Coalition’s plan was the only response the town received several weeks after the request for proposals was released. If the selectmen reject the Coalition’s plan and issue another request for proposals, they could end up with none.

At least a few residents have already said the selectmen should not accept a proposal that calls for demolishing the former school, which is more than a century old.

“We strongly oppose this,” Kathleen Szyska, chairwoman of the Historical Commission, told the selectmen Monday night. The building is listed on the Massachusetts Historical Commission’s inventory of historic places, she said.

“I think $300,000 is low,” Szyska added, regarding the amount the Coalition has offered to pay for the property. “I’ve heard from a lot of people.”

Selectmen Chairman William Gordon said it would cost the town $9 million to renovate the structure so it could be usable. Selectman Tracy Watson pointed out that the June 12 annual Town Meeting voted unanimously to authorize the selectmen to sell Bradstreet School.

“No one spoke against it,” Watson noted.

“We don’t take demolishing of a building lightly,” John Winslow, architect for the project, told the selectmen. Like Gordon, he said it is “not feasible to renovate that building.”

Emily Rosenbaum, executive director of Coalition for a Better Acre, said the corporation will pay for the demolition of the old school.

“We know that 24 units will work,” said Winslow, who noted the Coalition has already built numerous affordable apartments in Lowell and other nearby communities.

Four of the apartments will have one bedroom, 17 will have two bedrooms and three will each have three bedrooms, he said. Madeline Nash, director of real estate for the Coalition, said the one-bedroom homes will rent for $907 per month, while two-bedroom apartments will have a monthly rent of $1,097,

The three-bedroom apartments will be rented for $1,310 per month, she said.

The apartments will be available to working families earning less than 60 percent of the median household income for this area, according to the proposal submitted to the town.

Nash said the apartments would be ideal for an entry-level teacher or police officer. The Coalition is working on establishing a preference for North Andover residents and veterans, she said.

“We have to answer to the (state) Department of Housing and Community Development.” she said.

The selectmen are expected to continue to discuss the Bradstreet School at their next meeting, Feb. 25.