BARRE — What, besides its age, does a 120-year-old apartment house on Keith Avenue have in common with the smallest of Barre’s old neighborhood schools?
Two things: both are vacant, and neither will be if Downstreet Housing and Community Development can pull off two projects that are at very different stages.
Downstreet plans to convert the Keith Avenue property — now a deteriorating duplex — into transitional housing for women recovering from substance use disorder and their children and is actively exploring the possibility of transforming the former Ward Five School into affordable housing for families.
The latter project is still in its infancy. The former just picked up some key financing, keeping it on track to start construction this spring.
The Vermont Housing & Conservation Board just announced its recent award of $175,000 for the Keith Avenue project and Downstreet is now waiting for word from the state on its request for $500,000 from the Community Development Block Grant program. The application, and others like it, will be the subject of an April 1 meeting.
Assuming that grant is approved — all of the funding needed to transform the 1899 building into housing for women recovering from addiction will be in place and the schedule has construction slated to start this spring and wrapping up by the end of the year.
The proposed “recovery residence” will be operated by the Vermont Foundation of Recovery and include three units — two “family apartments” and one “transitional” unit capable of supporting up to four families with a series of shared spaces.
The Keith Avenue project is approaching its final hurdle two years after Downstreet hosted a press conference during which Gov. Phil Scott highlighted the significant need for the development of additional “recovery residences” in Vermont.
Downstreet’s plans for the old Ward Five School on Humbert Street aren’t nearly that far along. However, the non-profit organization has started checking some of the early boxes as it explores the potential for acquiring the former school building from the Barre Housing Authority.
That effort will include an appearance before City Council tonight seeking support for a request the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development remove a deed restriction that will enable the old school to be donated to Downstreet for re-purposing as affordable housing.
Built in 1902, Ward Five was part of the network of neighborhood schools that were shuttered and sold after Barre City Elementary and Middle School opened in 1995.
The housing authority bought the old school for $5,000 in 1997 and converted it into its offices before eventually opting for its more centrally located leased space on Washington Street in 2013.
Executive Director Charles “Chip” Castle said the Ward Five building, where his wife was once a student and spent first grade in the room that was his office prior to the move, has been vacant ever since.
Castle said that could change if Downstreet and fellow housing nonprofit, Evernorth Inc., are able to put together a project involving the school.
According to Castle, Downstreet recently signed an option on the property and is exploring the feasibility of converting it into affordable housing. HUD lifting the deed restriction — a “Declaration of Trust” is a necessary step in the Barre Housing Authority parting with the property.
Hoping to secure the City Council’s endorsement for the request involving the deed restriction, Castle and Nicola Anderson, project coordinator for real estate development for Downstreet, are expected to attend tonight’s virtual meeting.
Eileen Peltier, who is in her final weeks as executive director of the Downstreet, said the preliminary plan for the Ward Five building is to create eight or nine apartments with “project-based vouchers” supplied by BHA, and package the project with safety, energy efficiency and other improvements that are planned at Bromur Apartments, which are owned and operated by Downstreet.
Earlier this year, Peltier announced she would be leaving Downstreet in April in order to move closer to her children and extended family in Massachusetts. She’ll be leaving April 2 and will be replaced on an interim basis by Julie Curtin, chief operating officer at Downstreet. A national search for a permanent replacement is expected to wrap up early this summer.