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Plans for old school rehab needed to get $2.8 million in grants

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AYER — There’s $2.8 million in grants earmarked to transform the Pleasant Street School into 21 units of affordable senior housing.

But to receive that funding, the Ayer Housing Authority must do its planning and permitting in the next six months and present a finished package to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for approval, according to authority Director Kenneth Martin.

Martin was before the Planning Board on Jan. 11 to address any potential permitting issues.

He said he’d already spoken with building commissioner Gabriel Vellante, who suggested he visit the Planning Board to ascertain if a use variance is required to convert the old school building into multi-family housing.

That use shouldn’t be an issue since the building is in a district that allows multi-family housing, said board Chairman Elizabeth Hughes, and municipal buildings are largely exempt from bylaw requirements.

However, she said the board wants to see the design once it’s produced.

“I think from a site plan perspective, I would ask that when you get to that point, you come before the board,” she said.

Martin agreed. He asked the board to outline its opinion on the use question to Vellante.

“We want to make sure there are no issues,” he said.

Hughes said her board will also write HUD a letter outlining its support for the project.

Martin brought only preliminary plans to the meeting, which haven’t been changed since the project was approved by town meeting in 2005. Since the school is a historic building on the national registry, the plan is to have only minimal alterations to the building exterior, he said.

The HUD grant is for rent subsidy and support services, said Martin. The school was one of only four projects in the state to receive such funding last year.

The project would be a joint venture between the authority and the Montachusett Home Care Corp., which would lease the property for 99 years. There will be 21 units for occupants aged 62 or older and one caretaker unit, he said.

Overall, the project needs another $1.8 million in funding to cover expenses, said Martin, which he’s working to secure from the state.

“Like anything else, when you have most of the money, it’s easier to raise the balance,” he said.

Martin said oversight during renovations would be provided by a single-purpose nonprofit with a seven-member board, four of whom are local.

The town-owned building has rarely been used in the last 20 years. The authority was approached by neighbors who had reservations with a private condominium development there that was being considered by the town.

Martin credited local support for moving this project along. He said it’s an opportunity for Ayer to do something noteworthy and unique.

“It’s a great opportunity to showcase Ayer, a small community that’s had no additional senior housing since 1982,” he said.

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