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Plans for former Riverbend, Ellen Bigelow schools unveiled

  • Janis Mamayek of Icon Architecture, left, Anne Reitmeyer of NewVue Communities and NewVue Executive Director Marc Dohan detail plans for the former Riverbend and Ellen Bigelow schools at Tuesday’s meeting of the Athol Selectboard. Greg Vine

  • (left to right, backs to camera) NewVue Communities Executive Director Marc Dohan, Anne Reitmeyer of NewVue, and Janis Mamayek of Icon Architecture showing plans for the former Riverbend and Ellen Bigelow schools to the Athol Selectboard Tuesday night (facing camera, left to right) Town Counsel John Barrett, with board members William Chiasson and Stephen Raymond, Chair Rebecca Bialecki, Lee Chauvette, Holly Young, and Town Manager Shaun Suhoski. —Greg Vine

  • Riverbend School and play area, entrance on Riverbend Street. File Photo

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 11/6/2019 9:56:02 PM
Modified: 11/6/2019 9:55:53 PM

ATHOL – While most people might think the purchase of the former Riverbend and Ellen Bigelow schools by NewVue Communities for $25,000 is a steal, the estimated cost of renovating the buildings and rehabilitating the property is estimated to be in the vicinity of $20 million. That’s what officials from Fitchburg-based NewVue and Icon Architecture of Boston told the Athol Selectboard Tuesday night.

NewView submitted the sole proposal for the rehab of the former schools after the town advertised for bids for the project in August. A review panel examined the group’s proposal and recommended that the board approve sale of the properties to the non-profit organization, which is rehabbing a number of other properties in Athol. NewView and town officials will negotiate on exactly when ownership of the properties will change hands.

“Sustainability underlies everything we do,” said Icon Director of Architecture Janis Mamayek. “Intrinsic in that is preserving existing buildings. The Bigelow and the Riverbend school will remain as is.”

Mamayek added that a new structure connecting the two existing buildings would also be constructed, adding to the number of housing units that will be made available. She also said plans call for increasing the amount of open green space on the property.

“We’re strongly looking at a very open site plan,” she said. “What is now primarily asphalt will be made into more of a calm, passive recreation space, as well as introducing community gardens, recreational playgrounds, things that are open to the whole community.”

Mamayek further explained that the plan calls for creation of an “intergenerational development.”

“So,” she said, “not only seniors, but also family units, primarily in the larger classrooms that lend more to larger units.”

Mamayek did note that much of what is done on site would depend on approval from the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

Anne Reitmeyer of NewVue said the development would consist of 20 one-bedroom units, 24 two-bedroom units, and 9 three-bedroom units.

“There are some units that are what we call ‘workforce housing,’” said Reitmeyer, “which will mean those can be rented to families who are between 80 percent and 110 percent of AMI – area median income. That will enable us through a relatively recent program, administered by Mass. Housing, to access quite a bit more capital into the development, and that’s a critical issue in terms of making this work. And that’s important because putting a lot of debt on these projects just doesn’t make sense.”

The remainder of the units will be made available to those considered low and/or very low income.

Reitmeyer also explained it could take well over a year to secure the funding necessary to move ahead with the project, noting that much of the cash necessary for the work will come in the form of state and federal assistance for which NewVue must apply. That prediction seemed to fit with Town Manager Shaun Suhoski’s hope, expressed in August, that the project could be completed within a time frame of 24 to 36 months.

Reitmeyer said NewVue would also attempt to secure low-income tax credits to help fund the project.

In all, 53 new units of housing will be created. Riverbend will house 20 of those units, 12 will be located in the old Bigelow school, and 20 will be housed in the newly-constructed building.

The Selectboard voted unanimously to accept NewVue’s bid and development proposal.

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