2013-05-17 / Front Page

City wants old school off books

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


The Roosevelt School building was an elementary school in South Portland from the 1920s until the 1985, when the Spurwink School moved in. Last summer, the Spurwink School gave the city one-year notice to terminate its lease. Now, the city is looking for a new tenant before winter. (Jack Flagler photo) The Roosevelt School building was an elementary school in South Portland from the 1920s until the 1985, when the Spurwink School moved in. Last summer, the Spurwink School gave the city one-year notice to terminate its lease. Now, the city is looking for a new tenant before winter. (Jack Flagler photo) SOUTH PORTLAND – South Portland city staff aren’t sure who will move into the old Roosevelt School, but the city council has decided it will do its best to accommodate any future plans a prospective buyer may have for the property.

The building, located on Pine Street near the intersection of Cottage Road, was an elementary school in the city from the time it was built in 1927 until 1985, when the city entered into a lease agreement with Richmond Corp., which operated the Spurwink School for children with emotional and learning difficulties.

Last summer, the Spurwink School gave one-year notice to terminate its lease, which was scheduled to run through 2016. That one-year period ends this July, leaving the city without a tenant.

City staff have decided the building does not serve any useful purpose for any of South Portland’s municipal departments, so discussion turned to finding the best way to market the building at two city council workshops, one held this fall and another on Monday, May 13.

That marketing plan may involve a zoning change. Currently, the building is in a Residential District A zone, which caps the number of residential units on the property at seven. Rezoning the property to allow more units or commercial use could increase the value of the property for the city.

City Manager Jim Gailey said the neighborhood could handle a “density bump” in the property because of its proximity to a main thoroughfare in South Portland.

“I would support a much higher density for the property, knowing the impacts in terms of traffic are going to funnel a few hundred feet up to get to Cottage Road, and not traverse through a very dense neighborhood.”

The city assessor appraises the value of the property at $738,300. Gailey brought three separate appraisals to the council, each based on different zoning changes. Gailey did not disclose the dollar values of those appraisals, instead urging the council to enter executive session to discuss specific numbers in order to avoid hurting the city’s bargaining position.

The council chose not to enter executive session, and instead decided to wait for offers before taking steps to rezone the property. Councilor Melissa Linscott, a real estate agent in South Portland, said she would be open to either residential or mixed-use zoning.

“I think the bottom line would come down to what a developer would want to use it for,” Linscott said.

City staff did not bring a proposal to the council Monday night that included zoning the Roosevelt School for businesses, but both staff and the council seemed open to the possibility, depending on the wishes of the developer.

Mayor Tom Blake said he could envision a mixed-use area with doctors’ offices downstairs and apartments above. Blake said he was willing to wait for feedback from developers before moving forward.

However, Councilor Jerry Jalbert said the old Roosevelt School is not in an ideal location for a business.

“I don’t see mixed use being in the cards,” Jalbert said. “It’s too far away from other businesses for there to be synergy in a neighborhood like we see in Knightville.”

When the city ultimately decides on an offer from a developer, the zoning board of appeals will still need to approve any changes before a final council vote. Blake reminded fellow councilors the city is “a long ways out” before any changes are made.

Gailey said he is hoping that process doesn’t take too long, as he would like to see the property off the city’s books before the cold months roll back into Maine.

“I don’t think we’re in a position that we can heat this building next winter,” Gailey said.

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