Guests of Thursday’s event toured three of the available apartments, studied historical photos of the Biddeford area that decorate the hallways and enjoyed refreshments from Saco Island Deli. They also heard from several local and regional leaders and project investors on the significance of the redevelopment of the former school.
Drew Sigfridson, the vice chair of Avesta’s board of directors, welcomed the group and said, “The redevelopment of the school preserves a vital connection to the past and maintains a monument” in the Biddeford community.
Mayor Alan Casavant recalled his grandparents living nearby on Mt. Vernon Street and called the reopening of the school one of the highlights of his first eight months as mayor. He said the redevelopment of a historic building is part of the city’s ongoing efforts of “melding our past with the vision of what we need in the future that will change us dramatically and make us fit in a 21st century economy.”
Larry Wold, Maine president of TD Bank, which provided construction financing, said the company’s support is part of its larger effort to invest in local communities. He called the project a “testament to what can happen when people work together,” adding, “I can’t be more proud of the role TD played and I look forward to more projects like this.”
Dan Brennan, director of development at MaineHousing, said, “This is an exciting day for MaineHousing, when you reach this point and get to meet the residents and get together with all the people who put their hard work in.” He added, “The need out there is so much more than what we’re able to provide, and that’s why it’s so important to keep producing projects like these.”
Bill Shanahan, president of the Northern New England Housing Investment Fund, outlined the fund’s role as a facilitator to bring together parties to fund projects like Emery School. “It’s always striking to us what these projects can do to neighborhoods and to the economic vitality in neighborhoods in cities and towns across the state,” he said.
State Senator Nancy Sullivan, a former school teacher, reflected on the transformation of the building as a place to educate our children and now as a home for seniors. “What could be better than coming full circle?” she said, adding, “People who serviced their community and are in a new stage in their life are able to come here to decent, safe, energy efficient homes.”
Earle Shettleworth, Maine state historian, talked about the growing trend of preserving former schools as housing, which helps to attract and retain downtown residents and boost economic vitality. “These buildings are an integral part of the fabric of a community, and there are strong, emotional ties to these schools.”
Elaine Dubois, a new resident of Emery School who was born in Biddeford, got the audience laughing as she told a story about escaping her babysitter and walking to Emery School to play with the children. She moved away and was never able to attend the school as she had hoped she could, but is now happy to be able to return, she said. “And where are all the kids? They’re moving in,” she said. “You call them residents, but I call them neighbors. And while they may have a little snow on the roof, they’re all young at heart.”
Matt Peters, a development officer for Avesta, finished the remarks by highlighting the economic impact of the seven projects Avesta has recently completed or has under construction for completion in 2013. Those projects have generated a total of $55 million in economic activity for the state in jobs, materials and services.
Following the remarks, Mayor Casavant and Elaine Dubois unveiled a plaque that originally adorned the building dedicating it to Thomas Emery, a beloved Biddeford school teacher. The plaque was previously removed but was uncovered in city storage and has now been returned to the building.
Mayor Casavant and Elaine Dubois stand with the plaque dedicating the school to Thomas Emery
Built in 1913, Emery School was used to educate children until 1993, when it became the St. Louis Child Development Center until 2007. Following a long community process, the city of Biddeford in 2010 issued an RFP for the redevelopment of the school with several objectives: Turn the building into housing or a combination of housing and services; achieve high-quality design that’s compatible with the surrounding area; redevelop it in a timely fashion; and preserve the architectural integrity of the building. Many of the building’s historical features were preserved, including the stone trim and brick façade, wood floors in the hallways and on the stairs, wood trim and tin ceilings in some units, chalkboards and cabinetry used to store books. For more information, visit our website at http://www.avestahousing.org/property-development/new-properties/emery-school.
Contact: Mindy Woerter, Communications Manager
(207) 553-7780, ext. 212; cell: 632-0696