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Celebrating the completion of Hyacinth Place in Westbrook

On May 16, we celebrated the grand opening of Hyacinth Place, a 37-apartment community on Walker Street in one of Westbrook’s historic neighborhoods. While the first residents began moving in back in September, we waited to hold a celebration until the apartments were full and the weather more agreeable.

Hyacinth Place is a unique community for a few reasons — one of which is that it’s a combination of historic renovation and new construction. Along with Developers Collaborative, we turned the former St. Hyacinth Catholic school and convent buildings into affordable apartments. We rounded out the property with a new building that includes a community space for residents to relax and gather. Seeing these vacant, deteriorating landmarks restored to their former glory and preserved for future generations was really rewarding, and the news residents love their historic features.

The redevelopment of this site also included giving some serious love to the adjacent green space, which we’ve dubbed Walker Field. This previously underutilized space now has a jogging path, benches, new swings, picnic tables and soccer goals. We’re hopeful that the space will be used for Little League games as well as community gardens. This space is now much more welcoming to the more than 100 families living in the neighborhood, and on any given day you’ll see people walking their dogs, older kids playing soccer, and younger kids tumbling in the grass.

On Friday, this field was the site of our grand opening event. We wanted to make it a fun neighborhood party, so we had a popcorn machine, an ice cream sundae bar (with ice cream and fixings made by Westbrook’s own Catbird Creamery) and a visit from the Westbrook Fire-Rescue Department’s Engine 4. Attendees got to tour the new building and the renovated historic buildings. Many guests had connections to St. Hyacinth, whether they went to school there or even taught there, and they were eager to see inside these buildings once again.

Westbrook Mayor Colleen Hilton told the crowd that the redevelopment of the site was just what the neighborhood needed, especially with the housing need in the community, and that “to see this type of life happening here is really refreshing.” The city will also receive nearly $50,000 a year in new property taxes.

Maine State Historian Earle Shettleworth talked about the historical and cultural impact of the influx of Franco-American families into Westbrook, and the “presence and permanence of parochial education in this community.”

And new Hyacinth resident Monique Rodrigue talked about her excitement at finding Hyacinth Place on the Internet when she was searching for a new home for her and her husband. She loves that her new community has provided her with an opportunity to give back — she volunteers her time tutoring children and even their parents who want to improve their English language skills. I’ll share more about Monique in a later post.

It was a great event, and just one piece of Avesta’s continued commitment to revitalizing the neighborhood. Later this year, we’ll embark on a $3.2 million renovation of the 73 apartments that make up Steeple Square on Walker and Webb streets.

 

 

 

 

To see more photos from the event, check out our Facebook page. And for more on Hyacinth Place, including its history and the construction, check out our website.

Post by Mindy Woerter, Communications Manager

By Mindy Woerter, Communications Manager

‘We’re becoming family’: Event celebrates growing Stonecrest community

It was a perfect fall day last Friday to celebrate the opening of 25 new apartments for seniors and the disabled in Standish. While the apartments at Stonecrest II were completed in March, we like to hold off on a celebration until they are full or nearly full, so the residents can be part of the event as well.

This grand opening was much different than other grand openings we’ve had in the past. First, we didn’t even call it a grand opening, but rather a Harvest Luncheon and Community Celebration. We asked residents of Stonecrest I and Stonecrest II to invite their families and to provide their feedback on what kind of event they wanted to have. We invited local officials like Sen. Gary Plummer and Town Councilor Lynn Olson to join us and get to know the residents. We deepened our connection to the Standish community by inviting the Bonny Eagle High School Jazz Combo and Select Chorus to perform.

We didn’t want the focus of this event to be on Avesta or the development of the project, but rather the residents and their community. One of the residents, Norman, served as the MC and kept everyone smiling with his jokes and heartfelt words about his community. Two of his neighbors stood up to talk about why living at Stonecrest was important to them. Other residents shared their stories in writing, describing what the Stonecrest community means to them on cards that were displayed at the event.

“Stonecrest gave me a home that is safe and clean, and friends that make me feel good every day,” said one resident. “And a real sense of community, to share our stories, our ups and downs.”

“After five years without a home of my own, Stonecrest has given me a roof over my head that I can call ‘home,’” wrote another resident. “I really want to thank everyone for the friendships we’re developing!”

All these stories had common themes: a sense of safety, support from the community, a willingness to help each other. I can attest to the residents’ willingness to help, as I was surprised and delighted when several of them came out to help set up the tables and decorations for the event! They told me they were happy to do it, and I could see that they truly were. After the event, they literally opened their homes to us, offering tours of their apartments to visitors and guests who wanted to take a peek.

I’m very appreciative to the residents for their help and their hospitality. And I’d like to offer a special thanks to Norman for serving as the event’s host and for sharing what the Stonecrest community means to him. “To face aging with a community of caring adults gives great comfort to us,” he told the crowd. “The greatest meaning for us is the friends we have made. We’re becoming ‘family’ and that’s a real good feeling.”

Read more about the event and watch video at the Bangor Daily News website.

And read about the community garden at Stonecrest here.


By Mindy Woerter, Communications Manager

Our Pearl Place II Grand Opening: A recap

On Monday, under skies that threatened rain but never followed through, we celebrated the grand opening of one of our newest properties, Pearl Place II in Portland. If you missed my previous post about our 10-year history of developing housing on Pearl Street, you can read it here.

Despite the clouds and the chill, the event was a great success. We saw lots of our partners, friends, colleagues, advocates, employees and residents. We heard from Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, who talked about the success of the city’s efforts in partnership with Preble Street to find housing for homeless individuals; Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, who remarked on the sheer amount of construction happening in Portland, a commuting hassle but a very promising sign of better times in the city; MaineHousing Director John Gallagher, who reminded us all of the complex partnerships that have to happen in order for housing projects like Pearl Place II to come to fruition; and Isaac Bujambi, a new American and new Pearl Place II resident, who shared his heartwrenching story of fleeing his home under persecution in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and living in unsafe and unsanitary conditions in a refugee camp. We’re happy — and he’s happy — that he and his wife and four children are able to live in a safe, secure, affordable home.

We also gave our annual Mike Yandell Award to John Ryan, president of Wright-Ryan Construction, who in turn recognized his team of employees. Wright-Ryan has partnered with Avesta on several projects, and the mission of affordable housing is as important to John as it is to us. “Everyone deserves the opportunity to live in a space they can be proud of, and that’s the kind of spaces we look to build,” he said at Monday’s event.

Pearl Place II’s grand opening marked our fifth grand opening in the last year. We have three other projects in construction, and three additional ones about to start construction. These 11 developments in seven Maine communities represent $74 million in economic impact. But more importantly, these 11 developments provide homes to 362 Maine families like Isaac’s. We think that’s worth celebrating.

See more photos of the event on our Facebook page.

By Mindy Woerter, Communications Manager

Pearl Place II continues our legacy of affordable green building

We’ve got something of a reputation for our green building. It was nearly 10 years ago that we developed our green design standards, recognizing that an efficient building is one that lasts longer, costs less over the long term, and provides a healthier living environment.

We built the first affordable housing development in the state to receive LEED certification, and we also built the first affordable, multifamily property to receive LEED Platinum certification.

We’ve received national recognition for our energy-efficiency – in 2008, we received the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED For Homes Award for Pearl Place I (Multifamily category); in 2012 we received the LEED for Homes Award for Oak Street Lofts (Outstanding Affordable Developer category); and just last month Oak Street Lofts won the Charles L. Edson Tax Credit Excellence Award in Green Housing.

Now we’ve added another green building to our mix: Pearl Place II, a 54-apartment community in Portland completed in January. Like Pearl Place I, phase II is designed to qualify for LEED certification in the LEED for Homes program. Energy models estimate that Pearl Place II is 25% more efficient than standard buildings with similar characteristics.

The building envelope is highly insulated, and fresh air is supplied by an efficient energy recovery ventilation system. The building’s boilers achieve 92% efficiency, compared with standards boilers that are 80% efficient. We used a construction technique called compartmentalization so that each apartment is self-contained, minimizing air flow between the apartments. This improves indoor air quality and ensures the HVAC system is operating at optimal efficiency in each apartment. (An added bonus: It also reduces the travel of sounds and smells between apartments.)

A series of solar panels on the roof heat approximately 65% of the domestic hot water used in the building. And a landscaped rain garden next to the building helps reduce stormwater runoff. We also used as many local and green-certified materials as we could, installed high-efficiency fixtures and appliances, used low or no-VOC paints and adhesives, and diverted 85% of construction waste from landfills and incinerators.

While we like receiving awards for our green buildings, that’s not why we build them that way. We do it to ensure the long life of these properties, reduce operating costs and create a safer, healthier place to live for our residents. We’re happy to add Pearl Place II to our growing list of energy-efficient developments.

We’re celebrating the grand opening of Pearl Place II on Monday! Won’t you join us?

To read more about LEED For Homes and the U.S. Green Building Council, visit their website.

By Mindy Woerter, Communications Manager

Pearl Place II: Returning Bayside to its residential roots

We’re really excited to celebrate the grand opening of Pearl Place II on June 10. We’re not just marking the opening of new, affordable apartments in Portland – we’re also celebrating the culmination of a nearly decade-long effort to participate in the revitalization of the Bayside neighborhood.

It was in August 2004 when we announced our plans to build in phases 100 housing units. And while our conceptual plans and timelines were adapted over the years, our goal did not: Spur the growth of the Bayside neighborhood by building new housing units.

A 2000 study entitled “A New Vision for Bayside” called for a return to the neighborhood’s residential roots with the creation of 500 housing units. In 2004, Ronald Spinella, then-chairman of the Bayside Neighborhood Association, told the Portland Press Herald that “it would be a real boon to Bayside to have more people living here again.”

In late 2007, on the corner of Oxford and Pearl streets, we opened Pearl Place I, an energy-efficient building with 60 apartments. The building filled more quickly than anticipated, and many of the new residents were immigrants and refugees. The location was ideal: 43% of the residents could walk to work, and the average resident commute shrunk from nearly 10 miles to less than 3.

Now, we’ve added another 54 apartments with Pearl Place II. Many of the residents are immigrants and refugees. Many are working families. Some are participants in the STRIVE U program, which provides post-secondary education and training to young adults with developmental disabilities. Some were formerly homeless and in desperate need of a safe, affordable place to live.

Over the last decade, the Bayside neighborhood has experienced a renaissance, thanks to concerted city efforts and $140 million of private investment. Our residents now have even more they can walk to, like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. Avesta also moved its office to the Bayside neighborhood in 2002 with the purchase of 307 Cumberland Avenue. And while our Pearl Street plans are complete, our investment in the Bayside neighborhood is far from over.

We’ve enjoyed being a part of the changing landscape of the Bayside neighborhood over the last 10 years, and we’re excited to see what the next 10 will bring.

By Mindy Woerter, Communications Manager