Plans for Riverbend, Bigelow schools unveiled

  • Athol Town Hall. Recorder Staff/Domenic Poli

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 12/1/2020 4:10:16 PM
Modified: 12/1/2020 4:10:10 PM

ATHOL — Athol’s Board of Planning and Community Development will hold a site plan review of plans to transform two town-owned school buildings into a 53-unit intergenerational housing development. The board will give the project the once-over at its meeting tonight, Dec. 2, which will be held via Zoom.

The latest details of the project were revealed during a public Zoom meeting Monday afternoon attended by around a dozen people, including town officials and individuals associated with various aspects of the proposal.

“We had hoped for a few more attendees,” said Town Manager Shaun Suhoski, “but keep in mind we did have about 40 people show up at the actual site meeting back in September, which I thought was a great turnout from the neighborhood.

“I know the development team has taken into consideration those comments and, on behalf of the town, these school buildings were last occupied in 2016 — the end of that school year. They became vacant and were later turned over to the town of Athol’s ownership.”

Suhoski pointed out the many demands on the municipal budget and explained it’s difficult for the town to pay for maintenance and upkeep of the two former schools.

After initially generating no interest from outside developers who might rehabilitate the buildings, NewVue Communities of Fitchburg stepped in last year with a proposal. NewVue has transformed school buildings in Leominster and Fitchburg into residences in recent years.

“We need affordable housing in town,” said Suhoski. “We need housing that families can access, we need quality housing that our senior population can access.

“On the selfish side, it would go onto the tax rolls, so that’s good for the community as a whole.”

Project Architect Bethany Moody said the original plans presented to the community in September were altered slightly in response to comments from the neighborhood.

“One of the biggest concerns was about the impact of vehicle traffic moving in and out of the site, how that might impact residents around the site,” she said. “What we propose to do is widen (the) loop for the drop off so it will have more room for parking, drop off and emergency vehicles.”

She also noted the exit of the loop was moved and made one way so that motorists are moving in just one direction onto Park Avenue.

New plans also eliminated the need for on-street parking, an issue of concern raised by residents at the September meeting.

In addition, plans call for a large green space located at the corner of Allen and Riverbend streets, a fenced-in trash disposal, space for snow that has been cleared from the driveway, and a playground.

In addition, an approximately 22,000 square foot, 2½ story building will be constructed on the southeast corner of the property that contains several housing units and possibly a community room and other amenities. The new structure will also provide a connection between the Bigelow and Riverbend school buildings.

Anne Reitmayer of NewVue Communities said the current estimated cost of the project is around $30 million. She said the project will be paid for through a number of funding sources, including various tax credits and state and federal programs.

Tonight’s meeting of the Board of Planning and Community Development starts at 7 p.m. The meeting can be accessed via https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88529931286.


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