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North Adams Council to Review Housing Proposal for Sullivan School
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
04:01AM / Friday, February 05, 2021
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A rough outline of the housing construction proposed for Sullivan School.


Sullivan School has been vacant and a target for vandalism since its closure in 2016. The proposal before the council sees the large classrooms as ideal for transforming into apartments.

NORTH ADAMS,  Mass. — The City Council will weigh in next week on a bid to turn the former Sullivan Elementary School property into 75 units of housing, most of which will be affordable. 

Xenolith Partners LLC of Bedford, N.Y., and SanoRubin Construction Services LLC of Albany, N.Y., are offering $10,000, well below the assessed value of $2,333,350 and requiring council to approval to proceed. It was the only bid on the property.
 
The bids were reviewed by the Proposer Selection Review Committee made up of Administrative Officer Angie Lopes Ellison, Community Development Director Michael Nuvallie and Project Coordinator Zachary Feury. The committee is recommending the plan with some caveats. 
 
"The financing plan indicated by the proposers is dependent upon public funding through grant programs and tax abatement. While not optimal for the City, the public funding and tax abatement described by the proposers is not unreasonable and is not a deterrent to accepting the proposal," they state in their recommendation. "There is, however, concern as to the 30-year tax abatement term in that it may exceed the term the City is legally allowed to provide. Acceptance of the proposal should be conditional upon the terms of the tax abatement being in the best interest of the City."
 
The developers are requesting a 30-plus year tax abatement that would limit property taxes on each unit to between $710 to $900 with annual escalations of 2 percent. The top tax after 30 years would be about $1,630.23.
 
The project would have three phases of construction with the first the rehabilitation of the 1965 school into 30 units and amenities. The second would be the construction of three six-unit townhouse on Summit Avenue and the third phase would add four more six-unit town houses. Pending preconstructions studies and financing rounds, the developers do not anticipate closing until 2023.
 
Xenolith says it has developed 700 units of affordable housing with another 700 in predevelopment, along with 62,000 square feet of community facility space. Sano-Rubin says it is a fourth-generation construction firm with more than 200 employees. Both companies are women owned. 
 
Also involved is EDM, a well-known Pittsfield firm that has done engineering studies for several local communities. 
 
The proposal states the approximately 900-square-foot classrooms "divide and combine neatly into studio, one, two and three-bedroom apartments. The gymnasium, cafeteria, library and administrative spaces convert logically into amenity spaces such as fitness, laundry, tenant and bicycle storage, and a generous community room with a kitchen. The building will likely require the abatement of hazardous materials, the extent of which will be determined through an environmental assessment. The windows and façade will be restored to the extent feasible."
 
While attempts would be made to maintain the school building's aesthetic, the townhouses would have a more traditional New England look with covered porches, hipped and gabled roofs and facades inspired by residential architecture. All construction would be made with an eye toward sustainability and modern efficiency.
 
The plans are for three studios, 17 one-bedroom, 10 two-bedroom and three three-bedroom units in the school, of which 5 percent would be handicapped accessible. At least 5 percent of the townhouses would also be Americans With Disabilities compliant. 
 
"We intend the design of the new townhouses to feel right on site, feel right sitting adjacent to the mid-century modern architecture of the renovated school building, feel right in the neighborhood, and feel right in the community of North Adams," say the developers. 
 
Once permitted, construction is expected to take seven months for the school and five and seven months for the townhouse units, pending financing availability. Cost of the total project is estimated between $25 million and $35 million; some of this funding is anticipated through federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits and other sources through the state Department of Housing and Community Development. 
 
The majority of the units would be considered "affordable" to households earning 30 percent to 80 percent of the area median income. As of 2019, the median income in North Adams was $41,471. The developers say they understand the "greatest current need" is at the 30 percent tier. Low-income housing credits set standards of no less than 20 to 40 percent of units be affordable to certain ranges of income.
 
Sullivan was one of five properties recently put out for requests for proposals and one of only three that received bids. The other is the single family home on Houghton Street that has been vacant for some time. A bid by Kenneth Daly to purchase it for $12,000 is being recommended by the proposal committee. The house is assessed at $79,900 but has been put out before with no bids. 
 
Daly said he was buying for his daughter, a local business owner, and detailed the issues with property, including water damage from leaking pipes that will have to be fixed. 
 
The mayor said the Mohawk Theater, which the council had debated extensively before allowing an RFP, received two bids. One did not meet the minimum requirements and the other was not recommended by the proposal committee, and the mayor said he concurred with that decision. Two other properties, one on Mohawk Trail and the Windsor Mill, received no offers. 
 
The proposal for Sullivan, released Wednesday night, has engendered a lot of concern among Kemp Avenue residents and accusations the mayor is "pushing" the project through. 
 
"I'm not representing the bidder. I'm representing the interests of the city, which is to put the order in front of the council for consideration," said Mayor Thomas Bernard on Thursday, adding that the city has solicited requests for proposals for Sullivan eight times. The last proposal recommended by the administration, for use as an advanced manufacturing school, was shot down by the council. 
 
The structure has been closed since the opening of Colegrove Park Elementary School in 2016. It's been the site of vandalism, including several fires set inside, and Bernard said ballpark figures to demolish the structure are ranging from $750,000 to $1.5 million. 
 
Since the offer is so far below the assessed value, the decision lies with the City Council. The mayor said he hoped that representatives from the developers would be there to answer questions but cautioned that some answers would likely not be immediately possible, such as negotiating the requested tax abatement. It didn't make sense, he said, to spend time researching the city's options if the council didn't authorize him to move forward on a proposal. 
 
The city has been trying to offload unused or underused properties for some time. "We want to get these into productive hands," said the mayor, who indicated he was worried about the signal being sent to interested developers about the type of welcome they would receive in North Adams. 
 
Bernard described the Sullivan proposal as "inclusive development." 
 
"One of the things about inclusive development is economic diversity and neighborhood," he said. "It creates places where you can live in, where it's desirable for people to live."
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