Closed schools eyed for veterans housing

  • Montachusett Veterans Outreach Center is developing a plan to convert the former Poland and Streeter schools in Winchendon into housing for veterans. The Poland School is in the foreground. STAFF PHOTO/GREG VINE

Staff Writer
Published: 1/27/2020 10:14:29 PM
Modified: 1/27/2020 10:14:12 PM

WINCHENDON – Montachusett Veterans Outreach Center fully intends to submit a proposal to purchase two former school buildings in Winchendon and convert them into housing for veterans, according to Executive Director Charlie Murphy.

Noting the project is very early in the planning stage, Murphy said the outreach center hopes to convert the schools into 30 to 40 apartment units.

Depending on funding sources utilized by the center, the facility would be open to previously homeless veterans and those who qualify under income guidelines. He said Montachusett Veterans Outreach Center hopes to utilize both low-income housing and historical tax credits to help underwrite the conversion.

Murphy added the schools would be converted into primarily one-bedroom units for single veterans.

“In a perfect world, between the permitting processes for the town, the state, and the federal government, and efforts to put the funding together, we would probably put shovel to ground in about two years,” Murphy said. “It’s a fairly long process.”

Montachusett Veterans Outreach Center, headquartered in Gardner, serves veterans in some 30 area communities, including Athol and several surrounding towns. Murphy said any housing created at the former schools would be open to all veterans and not limited to those currently in the center’s service area.

At a Special Town Meeting last fall, voters in Winchendon approved a plan to sell the Streeter and Poland schools, each constructed in 1900, specifically for use as veterans housing.

“A few years ago, the town tried to get authority to sell the schools,” said Town Manager Keith Hickey, ” It was potentially going to be some kind of apartment complex, which did not go over very well, I guess. But there’s a need for veterans housing, and that would be a good location for it. In some cases, the senior center is right next door, so they can utilize that as well.”

Hickey, Murphy, and the architect for Montachusett Veterans Outreach Center did a walk-through of the Street School last week, “and they appear to be interested.”

It’s likely each building will have to be cleared of hazardous materials before work on apartment units can begin, according to Hickey.

“I would guess there’s probably asbestos potentially in the flooring, maybe,” he said. “There may be some lead paint on the walls. Those are all things the developer will have to deal with.”

While the deadline for submitting proposals for the property is Feb. 10, Montachusett Veterans Outreach Center (MVOC) was the only organization to participate in last week’s walk-through.

Although unlikely, Hickey said, if the outreach center’s proposal proves unacceptable to the town or unforeseen circumstances render the preferred use of the buildings unfeasible, the town would have to take another look at potential uses for the former schools.

“That will be up to the Selectboard, obviously, to decide if they want to propose something that expands the use,” he said. “We’ll deal that if we have to. But when we talked to MVOC, there thought was that they could get the money they need to redevelop the property. They had a rendering at the fall town meeting.

“They would rehabilitate both the Poland and Streeter schools. They would then also build a building that would connect both schools, which would house some of the necessities, whether it be laundry rooms and those types of things. I assume it would be a three-story addition because they would probably put the elevator in that addition. They would need to install an elevator to service both buildings.”

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