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August 10, 2018

Developers Collaborative completes $3M school rehab

Courtesy / Roman Josefiak
Courtesy / Roman Josefiak
From left, Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling with Children's Odyssey co-directors Susan Hougaz-McCormick and Laura Glover and director of operations Tina Cannon at Thursday's ribbon-cutting ceremony in Portland.

Children's Odyssey, a program for children of varied developmental levels, will move into a newly renovated location at the former Thomas B. Reed School at 19 Libby St. in Portland this fall.

Developers Collaborative, which led the $3 million renovation, along with the nonprofit, introduced the new site at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday. Co-Director Laura Glover told Mainebiz the plans are to reopen Children's Odyssey at Reed on Sept. 5.

"Working with Kevin Bunker has been wonderful," Glover said of the Developers Collaborative founder. "He believes in our mission."

Children's Odyssey opened in 1992 and has occupied a number of spaces since then, most recently 110 Davis Farm Road.

Children's Odyssey started with 10 children and four teachers and is now up to 24 teachers, with 68 children enrolled in multiple programs. The new, 16,500-square-foot space will have capacity to expand to 150 students.

Glover said they started looking for larger quarters about 10 years ago.

"We had outgrown our space," she said.

Budget constraints made it difficult to find something affordable, she said.

"Our funding sources are from the state Department of Education and MaineCare, and with reimbursement rate freezes and budget cuts, it's always very tight," she said.

A growing need

Children's Odyssey's fundraising initiatives, including a recent auction that raised $12,000, have helped cover the expected $32,000 needed for furniture for the new space.

The need for Children's Odyssey's services is growing, said Glover.

"It's challenging to find the financial means to grow, even though the need is there," she said. "We were lucky to be able to structure this venture so it will work financially."

For students, the move will require some preparation, said Glover.

"There are things to consider so that the children have as smooth a transition as possible," she said. "We'll prepare the children. We'll have pictures of the school and potentially we'll do social stories [a social learning tool] to help prepare the kids for the move. And we've encouraged families to visit the school."

According to a news release from the city of Portland, from 1926 to 1960, Reed served as an elementary school. In subsequent years, the school was used for storage, community events and the district's food distribution center before it was abandoned in 2013. The neglected building and grounds have been subject to vandalism, fire and decay.

Children's Odyssey, founded by Co-Director Susan Hougaz-McCormick, will occupy the 1960 section of the school. The expansion allows the nonprofit to establish an infant-toddler room, enhance the physical layout of the classrooms for easier wheelchairs and walker access and to accommodate the addition of a bathroom, provide an indoor motor room, and extend programming hours.

The balance of the space, the 1926 section, will be converted to eight market-rate apartments. A portion of the former playground area will remain green and have a public access easement preserving some open space for the neighborhood to enjoy.

The majority of children in Children's Odyssey's care demonstrate one or more educational or medical disabilities of varying degree and etiology to include but not limited to, autism, cerebral palsy, behavioral and emotional disorders, attention deficit disorder, hearing or visual impairment, Down syndrome, failure to thrive, feeding and swallowing disorders, chronic lung disease and seizure disorders. Its integrative approach also includes children who are typically developing.

Innovative rehab work

Courtesy / Heather Lumb, Developers Collaborative
Courtesy / Heather Lumb, Developers Collaborative
The Reed School gym was restored to its original use for Children’s Odyssey.

Mike Lyne, senior project manager for Developers Collaborative, said the company connected with Children's Odyssey through a friendship between his family and Glover's family.

"It was a little serendipitous," Lyne said. Several years ago, Developers Collaborative responded to the city's request for proposals for the redevelopment of Reed school, with a proposal to purchase the building and, with Avesta Housing, put in affordable housing throughout the building. That proposal fell through, however.

"We were thinking about responding again to the RFP when Laura reached out for advice for new facility for their program," he said. Children's Odyssey was part of Developers Collaborative second proposal from the start.

In order to facilitate financing, he explained, the deal was structured in a way that divided the school into two condominiums. Children's Odyssey is part-owner of its space now, and can eventually take over full ownership.

To help mitigate the renovation cost, the project received a 20% historic tax credit from the federal government and 25% historic tax credit from the state government.

Build-out for Children's Odyssey mainly involved refreshing what was already there, said Lyne.

"For the most part, it was already laid out," he said. "They were able to use the majority of the classrooms as they are." But there were some conversions, like converting the old bathrooms into storage rooms, installing a new plumbing system, restoring the original gym, and mitigating hazardous materials like lead and asbestos.

In a written statement provided to Mainebiz, Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling said: "This project helps us get closer to achieving two vital goals for the city: Achieving high-quality universal pre-K for our residents and the building of more rental housing. Every small step helps and I am pleased that the Developers Collaborative was so creative in finding a way to meet these needs."

Nonprofit sells its previous headquarters

Children's Odyssey sold its current 4,626-square-foot quarters, at 110 Davis Farm Road in Portland, to Bethel Kids Care LLC for $580,000, in a deal that closed June 19 and included a leaseback until Children's Odyssey's move.

There's no budget estimate for the affordable housing portion of the project, which is still in the planning process. The site plan application was filed Aug. 1 and will require Planning Board review.

"We've scheduled a neighborhood meeting for Aug. 23," said Lyne. After that, the proposal will go to the city planning board. "We hope to start next fall and build it out through the winter."

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