Martel Elementary School at 880 Lisbon St. in Lewiston. Sun Journal 2019 photo

LEWISTON — Senior housing, a commercial development or a community hub?

Martel Elementary School at East Avenue and Lisbon Street in Lewiston will likely be redeveloped. Sun Journal 2019 photo

Those are the options on the table as the City Council considers which redevelopment proposal is best for the former Martel Elementary School on Lisbon Street.

A week before the council is expected to make a decision, officials representing all three proposals pitched their ideas during a Tuesday workshop.

The three bids received by the city came from the Lewiston Housing Authority and Avesta Housing; David Gendron from Gendron & Gendron in Lewiston; and Auburn SHAREcenter, a nonprofit school program that collects materials to be reused by schools or other programs.

During this week’s workshop, councilors appeared to lean toward the Avesta proposal, which would place 44 senior housing units in a restored school building.

The school closed in 2019, and was officially considered city property as of September 2019, when the new Connors Elementary opened. The city solicited bids for the sale and redevelopment of the building and its property following recommendations from the Planning Board and Finance Committee.

Among the chief concerns listed by the city is retaining the historic school structure as well as the adjacent green space and playground.

The Gendron proposal to purchase the property for $400,000 and redevelop it into an unspecified commercial use, would raze all buildings while using the green space area for development.

Chris Paszyc, a broker for the Boulos Co., which is representing Gendron, spoke to the council Tuesday.

He said Gendron has developed a number of industrial and commercial buildings throughout Lewiston, including the recent redevelopment of the former Promenade Mall at 855 Lisbon St., across from the Martel property.

He told the council Gendron would be redeveloping Martel for one or two “national tenants” who are interested in the property.

If selected, Paszyc said development could follow quickly, with demolition occurring as soon as possible and construction by 2021.

Councilor Stephanie Gelinas called the Gendron proposal “vague” compared to the two other proposals, due to the fact that commercial tenants could be anything from a fast-food chain to a gas station.

Chris Kilmurry, executive director of Lewiston Housing, told the council there is a large gap in the available affordable housing options for seniors in the area.

“Right now in Lewiston, there is not really a lot of high-quality senior-specific housing that’s out there,” he said.

Martel Elementary School at 880 Lisbon St. in Lewiston. Sun Journal aerial photo by Russ Dillingham Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The Avesta proposal states that the original 1922 three-story structure would be retained and renovated if it could be placed on the National Historic Registry. They would also demolish the newer single-story wing of classrooms and auditorium to make way for new construction. The project would also include a recreation easement for the city to use the green space. Lewiston Housing would pay $129,000 for the property.

Kilmurry said there is no senior housing in Lewiston that serves residents that fall between 50% and 60% of area median income. He said that means the project could offer rents in the $600 to $700 range, compared to market rate in the $900 to $1,000 range.

Kilmurry said the property is also within walking distance of a supermarket, pharmacy and other retail stores while being on the bus line.

Rebecca Hatfield, vice president of real estate development for Avesta, said in the past decade, Avesta has completed six historic rehabilitations at former schools in Maine.

“We understand that many residents have deep connections to former schools so we work to redevelop these structures so they can continue to serve the community for many years to come,” she said.

Projects in Kennebunk and Westbrook were similar to what Avesta has proposed for Martel, with a historic rehabilitation of a former school building along with a new addition for more units.

Hatfield said the rehab would include restoration of the original building’s facade, but include new windows and utility systems to maximize efficiency.

Hatfield said the hope is to secure all the necessary funding by next year so that construction can begin by early 2022.

The entire project is estimated to cost $11.5 million, with Lewiston Housing owning and managing the apartments, and Avesta serving as the development consultant, facilitating the financing, design and construction.

The SHAREcenter’s bid for $0 comes with a proposal to turn the space into a thriving community hub.

Director Lisa Rodrigues told the council Tuesday that she’s hoping Martel can become the organization’s permanent home, and the proposal states the organization could partner with Lewiston Recreation for use of the green space, and set up rental space for “retail, offices, dance classes, yoga,” and more.

The SHAREcenter serves Maine schools and other nonprofits by repurposing donated school supplies, computers and other equipment, and the organization is storing its large items like office and school furniture at Martel.

If agreed upon, the city would become the “fiscal agent” for the project, and councilors questioned whether the city or SHAREcenter would be on the hook for maintenance and repair costs in the future, and the general sustainability of the organization in that location.

Councilor Lee Clement said that while he sees the value in the program, there could be easily “seven figures” worth of upgrading needed on the building.

City Administrator Ed Barrett said the city has not done a full assessment of the building’s needs, but that the biggest issue is the age of its “core systems.”

Rodrigues said because SHAREcenter is a nonprofit, they plan to apply for grants and other means to address the issues. She added that through partnerships and space rentals, the organization could begin bringing in revenue now.

According to a City Council memo, the property is assessed at $1.7 million, but the assessing office “estimates the market value of the building in the range of $700,000 and, if the buildings are demolished, the assessment would be in the range of $400,000.

The City Council is expected to decide on a proposal Feb. 18.


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