The Right Equation for Responsible Development: Spotlight on Hodgkins School Apartments

In multi-part series, exclusive to the Maine Real Estate Insider, we’ll provide an up-close look at the most notable commercial development projects of the past year that are helping to fuel Maine’s economy in terms of investment and job creation.  MEREDA is proud to recognize responsible development based upon criteria including environmental sustainability, economic impact, energy efficiency, difficulty of the development, uniqueness, social impact and job creation.

Please join with us in celebrating Hodgkins School Apartments.

MEREDA:  Describe the building and project.

Hodgkins School Apartments:  The Ella R. Hodgkins Intermediate School was constructed in 1958 as part of a comprehensive school building campaign in Augusta, Maine to improve the quality of education for students of the city. The school is on the National Register of Historic Places. The school is significant architecturally as an intact example of a modern, mid-century school building following the most recent trends in design and construction. Original architectural drawings indicate the building retains much of its integrity encompassing a total footprint of approximately 30,575 square feet.  As the second intermediate school constructed in the city, the Hodgkins School represents the conclusion of an effort to create modern elementary school buildings. Basement areas of the school are located beneath the north and south wings of the building which were used as a bomb shelter in the 1960’s. The central portion of the building is constructed on a slab-on-grade concrete foundation. The exterior walls are brick, with masonry and plaster interior walls. This historically significant school has been renovated into 47 apartment units for low income elderly.

The Augusta Housing Authority (AHA) partnered with Developers Collaborative (DC) to take on a major redevelopment project that ended up with the highest score in the MaineHousing annual 9% round.  DC has redeveloped many historic schools, and is one of the most prolific affordable housing developers in the state. The combination of DC’s experience and AHA’s position as a leader in the community proved to be especially productive in this instance.  This project focused on hiring local businesses whenever possible. The Hodgkins School Apartments project employed 233 men and women from around the area.

MEREDA:  What was the impetus for this project?

Hodgkins School Apartments:  The Hodgkins School building had been siting vacant since the end of the 2009 school year prior to Augusta Housing Authority and Developers Collaborative’s successful redevelopment plan. The City had begun discussions of setting aside several hundred thousand dollars with which to remediate and tear down the building despite its prime neighborhood location and relatively recent use as a school. Anything of intrinsic value was removed as soon as the building was no longer occupied. Unfortunately the back of the building is hidden from neighboring residences. The renovated building grounds now contain numerous landscaping additions that improve the esthetics and the livability of the area.  Raised beds were added for the residents to grow flowers and vegetables.  While a meditative stone and grass labyrinth is set next to the apartment building. It is one of only a handful of permanent labyrinths in the State.

MEREDA:  That sounds like quite a process.  How long were you in the planning stages before construction started?

Hodgkins School Apartments:  We began planning in early 2014 and began construction in September 2015.

MEREDA:  Tell us about the most challenging aspect of getting this project completed

Hodgkins School Apartments:  There were many challenges during the renovation project. The hallways were made of cream colored glossy glazed tile.  After removing various school noticeboards from the hallways hundreds of holes in the tiles were evident and visually unsightly. As a solution, color matched tiles were created through a special glaze firing.  Each damaged tile was carefully removed from the wall and replaced. This process was precise and labor intensive work. The doors from the hallway into the units created another problem.  Unknown until the wall interiors were revealed, some of the original structural members were too close to the classroom/unit doorways to accommodate wheelchair standards. To bring the building into ADA compliance seven pillars and footings needed to be moved in the building. The strong team of contractors, developers and owners resolved any challenges quickly keeping the project on budget and on schedule.

MEREDA:  Something unexpected you learned along the way was…

Hodgkins School Apartments:  The unique historic details in a midcentury building was something unexpected that we discovered. Through careful preservation and enhancement of key areas we were able to buff a diamond out from the rough.

MEREDA:  Now that it’s complete, what feature of the project do you think makes it the most notable?

Hodgkins School Apartments:  There are many features of this project that are notable. But as far as the structure is concerned the glass block is the most notable. While the building was vacant vandals broke skylights along with a considerable amount of the ridged glass block at the rear of the building. Fortunately matching glass block was sourced to replace the damaged ones. Hodgkins School was one of the first buildings of its kind to be evaluated by the National Park Service that contained a large amount of glass block in its facade. Making this building not only unique to Maine, but also to the entire U.S.A. The NPS approval process for the glass block details required setting a precedent for future historic renovations of this era throughout the U.S.A. and thus required more than typical dialog between SHPO, NPS, Owner, and MaineHousing.

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