January 15, 2014LANCASTER — The Coös County commissioners voted on Wednesday morning after holding the required public hearings to apply for a $500,000 Community Block Development Grant (CBDG) from the Community Development Finance Authority to add more modern low- and moderate-income apartments to the City's housing stock.
If their application is funded and approved by Governor and Council, $475,000 would be sub-granted to TKB Properties, LLC, to renovate the vacant and deteriorating Bartlett School at 56 Mount Forist Street, most likely into 14 affordable housing units.
The $25,000 balance would be retained for the county's administrative expenses.
The Berlin City Council voted to sell the vacant building to TKB Properties for $1, contingent on its receiving the grant.
Under the terms of the grant, these one- and two-bedroom units would have to remain affordable for a minimum of 20 years.
Berlin native Kevin Lacasse of New Hampton explained that he and his business partner Tim Coulombe have already renovated 78 apartment units in Berlin, primarily through public-private partnerships, with some financed entirely from private capital.
"Some good projects do need grant assistance, however, because the income that can be realized in this City is not sufficient to cover renovation costs," he explained.
When a prior developer's project plans did not materialize, City Housing Director Linda White approached TKB Properties to see if it would be interested in acquiring the former elementary school building.
The Berlin City Council voted that the vacant building should be made available to all interested investors through a Request For Proposal (RFP) process, however.
"No one else stepped forward," Lacasse said, noting that the building, not operated as a school since 2009, is now in pretty rough shape because a sprinkler pipe had burst and it's been left unheated for some time.
The City would retain the lower grassed section of the property, potentially for use as a park or other public amenity. TKB will own the three-floor building, the parking lot and some space for landscaping.
Architect Tim Sappington of Randolph has drawn up some preliminary interior plans that show five apartments on the Main Floor, ranging in size from 600 square feet to 1,060 sq. ft. The second floor would have a similar configuration, but the walkout ground floor would only have three apartments, plus storage.
Lacasse said he believes that the project will cost approximately $900,000, with $425,000 to be raised from private capital.
In addition to Berlin, Lacasse has housing investments in New Hampton and Franklin, a mobile home park in Tilton, and a campground in Effingham.
"Berlin is where I grew up; it's where my heart is," he said, pointing out, however, that the City was having a tough time when he graduated from high school.
Likely TKB Properties will not learn whether or not it will be awarded the grant until April. Then the project will have to go out to bid and a contractor selected. Work would likely not begin until August and, with a six-month construction period, the project could be completed in February or March, 2015.
The county's CDBG consultant Donna Lane of Conway reported in a separate public hearing that none of the CDBG grant awarded the Brookside Apartments renovation project in Berlin has been spend. The management company decided that it would be best if the Tri-County CAP weatherization project were completed before the next phase of improvements began and that work has not yet gone out to bid, she said.
Lane also discussed the possibility with the commissioners that work on the water supply system at the county's nursing home in West Stewartstown could qualify for an emergency Community Development Block Grant.
A boil order was put in place this fall by the state Department of Environmental Services (NHDES), and a series of design problems, including code compliance issues, have come to light since then.
Lane suggested steps that could be taken to speed up the process. Commissioner Paul Grenier of Berlin noted that the best timing would be to have an infrastructure project application ready for be submission right after the county delegation meets to approve the county budget, likely in mid-March. The delegation could then also approve where the balance of any needed funds would come from.
Two or three other towns are apparently considering applying for CDBG grants, which are solely available to counties and municipalities.