KENNEBUNK, Maine, Nov. 20, 2012 — On Nov. 9, Avesta Housing, its partners and members of the Kennebunk community celebrated the grand opening of Park Street School, a new affordable community for seniors located in the historic school building.
Avesta rehabilitated the historic Park Street School and built an addition to create 30 one- and two-bedroom apartments for people 62 and older or disabled. The building also features a large community room and kitchen, a hair salon, a media room and a library. Guests at the event included several former teachers and students of the school who enjoyed touring the renovated space and seeing the apartments created in former classrooms. Gail Kingsley Wolfahrt, a member of Avesta’s board of directors, served as master of ceremonies for the event.
Albert Searles, chairman of the Kennebunk Board of Selectmen, joked that the town of Kennebunk wanted the building back after seeing “such a wonderful job” of renovating the former school. “The job you’ve done here is tremendous. The town of Kennebunk wants to thank you and everyone who worked on this project for what you’ve done for us.”
He added, “Housing for older and low-income residents is just building your community, and that’s what Kennebunk is about — it’s a community.”
Earle Shettleworth Jr., state historic preservation officer and director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, highlighted the recent trend of reusing historic buildings like Park Street School. “School buildings are an integral part of the history of architecture and the fabric of their communities. Today Park Street School is embarking on a new era of service to the community,” he said.
John Ryan, president of Wright-Ryan, which served as the general contractor for the project, expressed his gratitude to neighbors of their project for their understanding during construction and to the larger Kennebunk community for their support. “A number of alumni stopped by while the project was going on, and their excitement really translated to the team working here. Their enthusiasm is the kind of thing that makes it worthwhile.”
Peter Merrill, communications and planning director at the Maine State Housing Authority, highlighted the government programs that helped fund the construction of Park Street School, including $2 million from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. “Without that stimulus program, this project wouldn’t have happened.”
During the remarks, Avesta presented the 2012 Yandell Award for service in affordable housing to USDA Rural Development’s Maine State Office. Rural Development provided funding for the project and will continue to provide rental assistance for some of the residents. Virginia Manuel, Maine state director of USDA Rural Development, talked about the millions in project funding and rental assistance Rural Development has committed in Maine. “Our commitment to affordable housing is our common tie to Avesta.”
Wayne Berry, a former town selectman and Park Street School student, spoke of the town’s ongoing efforts to memorialize students and staff at the former school who died during their time there. Elm trees planted in front of the building will be dedicated in their honor, and a plaque with their names will be hung in the building.
Leonard “Skip” Clark, a new Park Street School resident, entertained the crowd with his stories about growing older and recovering from hip surgery. A self-described “adventurer,” Skip spent his days traveling the country, but decided to settle down and put himself on a waitlist for an affordable apartment a few years ago. He recalled his old school building in Arlington, Massachusetts, where he used to stare out the tall windows and daydream until his fourth-grade teacher made him change seats. “It’s great to be able to come back to a room with my own windows, and there’s no Ms. Charter to tell me to move my seat,” he said.
In closing remarks, Debora Keller, Director of Programs for Avesta, thanked the number of partners who helped bring the project to fruition. She also highlighted the community garden organized by the town that will be located on the property beginning next year, and a partnership with Heartwood College of Art in Kennebunk to provide locally made art in the community space at Park Street School.
Photo by Jennifer Capriola/East Shore Photography
Many of the partners involved in the redevelopment of Park Street School gather on the front steps, where children used to gather for class photos.
Back row, from left: Dana Totman, president of Avesta Housing; Earle Shettleworth Jr., state historic preservation officer and director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission; Peter Merrill, communications and planning director at the Maine State Housing Authority; Virginia Manuel, Maine state director of USDA Rural Development; Cito Selinger, attorney at Curtis Thaxter; Kim Twitchell, senior vice president of TD Bank.
Middle row, from left: Bill Shanahan, president of the Northern New England Housing Investment Fund; Ben Walter, president of CWS Architects; Scott Hanson, Sutherland Conservation & Consulting; Susan Lucas, attorney at Curtis Thaxter; Neal Allen, chairman of Avesta’s Board of Directors; Brad Paige, CEO of Kennebunk Savings Bank; Leonard “Skip” Clark, Park Street School resident.
Front row, from left: Matt Peters, development officer for Avesta; Albert Searles, chairman of the Kennebunk Board of Selectmen; Debora Keller, director of programs for Avesta; Gail Kingsley Wolfahrt, member of the Avesta Board of Directors; Barry Tibbetts, Kennebunk town manager; Wayne Berry, former Kennebunk selectman.
Park Street School was built in 1921 and closed in 2005. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The vision for the redevelopment of this school took shape back in 2005 when the Town of Kennebunk issued an RFP to redevelop Cousens School and Park Street School. Avesta feels fortunate to have been selected as a development partner, first for Cousens School — which is now home to 28 apartments — and subsequently for Park Street School. Avesta retained and rehabilitated a number of the building’s historic features, including its brick façade, chalkboards and coat closets, slate floors, interior glass-paned doors, and interior and exterior windows.
Mindy Woerter, Communications Manager
(207) 553-7780, ext. 212