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Bartlett School to be purchased and turned into student housing

An artist rendition of the proposed student housing, to be put up where the old Bartlett School is. The property was purchased by Steve Binette and Steve Halle. The pair plans to put in suites and the property will be able to house up to 56 students for White Mountains Community College. The goal is to have the housing up and running by the next fall semester, although that may be pushing the envelope. (click for larger version)
December 15, 2010
BERLIN — The Bartlett School has been sold for $30,000 and will be turned into student housing, a niche currently not filled in the city of Berlin. In Resolution 2010-45, it states that the sale "…will fulfill a need for student housing not currently available in the city as well as put the property back on the tax rolls." The company buying the property on 56 Mt. Forist Street, what was once the Bartlett School, is White Mountain Suites, LLC.

Steve Binette and Steve Halle are the men behind White Mountain Suites. The two began the project together because, according to Halle "We've been lifelong friends." They have been working on this project since about last October. At the moment they are looking to secure financing so they can start and hopefully have the project finished by next fall.

Last year, they did a study and found that out of the approximately 1,200 students attending White Mountains Community College in Berlin, around 180 of them commuted from an hour or more away. There were also about 60 students who were renting an apartment in the area.

Eryn Brundle, age 19, of Lancaster, said "I live with my parents." She added she thought it would be good for people not have to make such long commutes and said that if the housing had been available when she started at WMCC "It would have been an option."

Katie Armstrong, 18, of Stark, said that she lives with her parents as well, and drives around half an hour to get to WMCC. She said she would have considered student housing because then "I wouldn't have to travel so much."

Emily Russell, also 18, moved to the area with her sister. Both are from Lincoln, Maine, which is four hours away. Russell said that finding an apartment was a hassle because she had to make special trips and she is far from her friends. She said she would have liked how student housing would have made finding a place much easier and added that "Living in a dorm would have helped me to get to know people."

Amber Savage is a 23-year-old student from Groveton and drives about half an hour from her parent's house to WMCC. She said that although she would not have considered student housing, she personally knows people who commute for two to three hours just to attend WMCC and thinks that the proposal would be great for them.

The first floor of the proposed new student housing would have a fitness center, a media room, and a laundry room. The goal is to house 56 students in the old Bartlett School.

The layout will be in suite format, with each suite having a kitchenette and a bathroom, although if a student wants more space and is willing to pay more money, there may be an option for them to rent a suite to themselves. The first floor will have two handicapped accessible suites. The outside will be landscaped and may have gazebos and be set up like a courtyard.

There will also be a surveillance system in place and a live-in building manager. There may be a card swipe system, but nothing has been finalized yet. The men said that there will be rules in place — especially considering the new disorderly actions ordinance.

In addition to getting the suites built and landscaped, another thing that Mr. Binette and Mr. Halle need to do is increase the R-value of the school. The higher the R-value, the better a building is insulated against the cold. To increase the R-value, the duo wants to replace the windows and the insulation. The pair stated that one of their goals was to "save and enhance the building."

The pair is hoping to work with Tri-County CAP to get bussing in for the students. There is also a parking lot already in place for student that have cars.

Mr. Halle said that the students would help attract younger people to the area and Mr. Binette added that they feel the building will be beneficial for the community, especially since it will be so close to the downtown. A hope for the new project is that it will revitalize the downtown area of Berlin.

The pair said that they feel like adding all the kids is like adding tourists; it will bring life to the downtown area. At the same time, they said that Kathy Eneguess had mentioned the possibility of expanding the college to a four year school at some point in the future, although there are no current plans for that.

The planned rent for students will be "anywhere from $500 to $550 per student, per month." Mr. Binette said.

Martha LaFlamme, vice president of student affairs, said that any option for housing they can offer their students is wonderful. The new student housing would have a colored brochure that would be given out to students in their orientation packets. LaFlamme added that the Town and Country Inn in Gorham has already opened a block of rooms to students.

Scott Labnon, Innkeeper at the Town and Country, said that this is his first semester offering student housing. Mr. Labnon said the college typically helps 200-300 students find rooms or apartments to rent. This semester, three students opted to live at the Town and Country. Mr. Labnon added that there have been no issues with the students. The rooms the students are in are in a part of the Inn that used to get shut down in the winter except for specialty parties.

The students pay a monthly fee and get, according to Mr. Labnon "…wireless internet, use of our health facilities, a dining discount – approximately 15 percent off meals — weekly house cleaning, and free parking." The wing where the students are has 24 rooms. Mr. Labnon hopes that more students choose to come live there next semester and added that if there was greater demand, he may add a common area with a kitchen and perhaps a small laundry room. About the Bartlett School project, Mr. Labnon said "It's a great venture, I'm happy to see the development in town."

Rob Hicks, age 19, is in his first semester at WMCC and currently rents a room at the Town and Country for $700 per month. He said, "It's always warm, I don't have to worry about the heat getting turned off." He also said that he likes the "…free use of the pool." His parents live in Peterborough, so he had to find a place to live once he had been accepted at WMCC in Berlin. Mr. Hicks said that if there was other student housing, he'd consider it, saying "Yeah, it all depends on the price and what's included."

Mr. Binette and Mr. Halle said that the city council seemed very "well balanced to see the project go through" and added that they were very fortunate to have their support. There had been some controversy over whether the parcel should go back out to bid, because some council members that $30,000 was selling the city short, but the resolution to sell the property passed in the end.

The pair also wanted to thank Max Makaitis of AVER, Sylvia Poulin and the Main Street Program, the Mayor and the City Council, various state representatives, Jim Wagner of the Northern Forest Heritage Park, the Berlin Industrial Development and Park Authority, and others who have all been instrumental in their support for the project.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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