Housing authority moves out of Ward 5 SchoolJeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo
The new home of the Barre Housing Authority is on Washington Street across from City Hall Park.
BARRE — The Barre Housing Authority has a new home and is now wondering what to do with the converted neighborhood school that had housed its administrative offices for nearly 16 years.
BHA Executive Director Charles “Chip” Castle said Thursday that the housing authority’s five-member board will carefully consider what to do with the former Ward 5 School on Humbert Street even as he and other members of the administrative staff settle into their new digs in leased space on Washington Street.
According to Castle, the move from the out-of-the-way old school that the housing authority purchased from the city for $5,000 in 1997 had been the subject of protracted discussions that heated up last summer.
“We’ve always kept our eye out for any kind of a property that we could acquire or lease that is close in proximity to some of our downtown properties because of the lack of parking,” he said.
Castle said the organization’s first choice — buying a commercial property at 18 S. Main St. — was studied for several months last year before being abandoned due to the expense of bringing it up to code.
“We spent some money trying to make that thing work and just decided we couldn’t make it work financially,” he said of the property, which is next to the BHA-run Tilden House and would have ease a parking crunch at that 79-unit facility.
Acquiring the neighboring property could have created at least 20 extra parking spaces to go along with the 16 on the Tilden House property.
“It’s hard to market and rent up apartments when you don’t have parking,” he said, noting most of the BHA-run facilities that were built or redeveloped in and around downtown Barre are on undersized lots with minimal parking.
That issue and the need for suitably sized, easily accessible offices for a staff that had been rattling around the spacious old school due to a shift in operations in recent years were all factors in the housing authority’s search for a new home, according to Castle.
Though the former Ward 5 School was once home base for more than a dozen of the housing authority’s administrative personnel, Castle said that number had dwindled due to a federally endorsed management model that encouraged locating field staff at housing projects. BHA did that — creating satellite offices at North Barre Manor, Tilden House and Washington Street Apartments, as well as at the Green Acres housing complex.
Castle said that left four people working in an aging school that the housing authority never fully used in the first place and was spending $23,000 a year to heat.
“We were very over-housed,” he said.
Castle recently signed a five-year, $3,500-a-month lease for 5,000 square feet of office space in a Washington Street building owned by Richard Davis. Located next to Washington Street Apartments, the new office comes with nearly 30 parking spaces that will be available to BHA staff and can be used by residents of both Washington Street Apartments and Jefferson Street Apartments.
BHA took possession of the space Feb. 1, began moving in late last month and put up its first sign this week.
“The biggest issue for me was location,” said Castle, who admitted that while the new space is more expensive than the old school, it is also far more accessible.
“It’s on a bus route, it’s near the downtown area … we’ve made a lot of headway in parking, and we’re not hard to find anymore,” he said.
Castle was familiar with the building because he worked there years ago when he was executive director of the Central Vermont Council on Aging.
“Here I am back staring out the same window,” he joked of his move back into what was his office.
Although the move is largely complete, Castle said the old school building is still being used for storage and the housing authority isn’t in a rush to get rid of it.
“We’re going to move very cautiously to decide what to do with the school,” he said.
Castle said he would reach out to the city and the Central Vermont Community Land Trust to explore options for a building where children, including his wife, once went to school.
“I would hate to see something happen that would destroy the peaceful enjoyment of that neighborhood,” he said.
According to Castle, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will have to sign off on any future use of the building. HUD is the primary source of funding for the local housing authority, which owns and manages seven public housing properties in Barre and Barre Town that collectively account for 361 units of affordable housing.
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