, Newburyport, MA

December 13, 2012

Newburyport Y eyes Salisbury school for low-cost housing

By Angeljean Chiaramida

---- — SALISBURY — It was built nearly a century ago and educated thousands of Salisbury children for decades before closing, but the Spalding School could soon get a new life as an affordable housing opportunity for moderate- to low-income households — perhaps developed by the Newburyport YWCA.

Earlier this year, Salisbury Affordable Housing Trust members began looking into the concept of turning the three-floor, 15,000-square-foot, 12-classroom school into multi-family housing. Through Salisbury’s Planning Office, the trust requested “expressions of interest” from those who might consider developing housing units within the school, which was built in 1915.

Last night, four groups made presentations to trust members, offering their visions of what could happen at the school. They include projects that could bring from 12 to 40 units of housing to Salisbury.

Most of the groups promise that most, if not all, of the units would be rented within a price range of households whose incomes are at, or below, 80 percent of the median income in Salisbury, which the state places at about $65,000 for a family of four.

Those interested were asked to comply with the trust’s criteria, which included the creation of housing, preferably rental, that offered at least 10 percent in the affordable range. The trust wanted the historical nature of the building preserved and protection provided to both the neighborhood and environment. Additionally, the letters should indicate how the new project would provide a financial benefit to the town, including tax payments, purchase or lease payments.

The meeting yesterday was not intended as a session after which trust members would pick a developer from those who expressed initial interest, according to Salisbury Planning Director Lisa Pearson. Instead, it was an opportunity for trust members to hear what’s possible, she said, then decide if or how to proceed.

If members think the project is worthwhile, they can put together a plan for the development, Pearson said, after which a formal request for proposal would be posted, allowing all interested parties to offer bids from which the trust members will choose.

The groups presenting last night include Salem’s North Shore Community Development Corporation and Harborlight Community Partners of Beverly, both of which have experience building affordable housing complexes elsewhere.

The two other letters were from joint ventures involving more familiar local groups. One was from Caruso McGovern Construction, which together with the Salisbury Housing Authority, suggested building 12 units of rental housing at Spalding. SHA currently owns and manages Beach Road’s Great Meadows complex, which provides affordable housing for income-qualified residents.

And Newburyport’s YWCA, along with L.D. Russo, presented the final option discussed last night. Depending on the mix of apartment sizes, this proposal could bring from 14 to 26 units to town, which would be prioritized for women.

Spalding School was rented for years by the Sparhawk High School, but has been vacant for more than a year after Sparhawk found another location. Located on Maple Street, the school building was constructed originally in 1915 as the Jacob F. Spalding School. In 1957, another structure, Memorial School, was added nearby and in 1962 the two buildings were connected with yet another building.

Always an elementary school, when Salisbury’s new school was completed, local children moved there, vacating the complex.

The Boys and Girls Club of the Lower Merrimack Valley found a home in the first floor of the Memorial School section of the complex, and recently the Greater Lawrence Educational Collaborative moved into the second floor at Memorial School, with a three-year lease.