Franklin Countys First News

Organizers, tenants celebrate 82 High Street project

Franklin Savings Bank's Derek Hayes speaks at the open house gathering for the 82 High Street project Thursday.

Dr. Roger Condit, one of the original 82 High Street volunteers, wearing one of the original volunteer shirts.

FARMINGTON - Supporters of the 82 High Street Inc. housing development celebrated the competition of three new apartment buildings Thursday afternoon, recognizing past and current partners at an open house event.

The 30-year development, located at Sawtelle Lane, was recently enhanced with the addition of three new apartment buildings, replacing older structures that had been deemed to expensive too renovate. A collection of partners worked to plan, secure funding for and construct the apartments, which include 12 new one- and two-bedroom units.

While those present at the open house could see the improvements, Franklin Savings Bank's Director of Commercial Lending Derek Hayes said, there were aspects of the project they couldn't see. "What you don't see are all of the obstacles that came up as part of this project," Hayes said.

Each had been discussed and addressed by the 82 High Street board and other planners, Hayes said, prior to the project moving forward.

The 82 High Street Board of Directors is similar in composition to the group that originally formed back in 1987. Fenwick Fowler, the former executive director of Western Maine Community Action, recalled Sawtelle Lane being known locally as the "ghetto." Three-and-a-half acres of mobile homes and aging apartment buildings, the area was essential to poorer residents; the landowner allowed week-by-week rentals, and accepted payment at the end of each month.

The new apartment buildings, as seen from High Street.

When the landowner decided to sell his property, Fowler said, one initial idea had been to simply convert the 3.5 acres into a park. At that time, however, there were several families with close to 100 people living on Sawtelle Lane. As many as 30 partners gathered together to discuss preserving the area for low-income housing, Fowler said, including local churches, organizations like Western Maine Community Action and agencies such as Maine Housing Authority, as well as the residents themselves. It was a "dynamic and exciting" process, Fowler said, and the current Board of Directors continues to have representatives from the tenants, the town of Farmington and local ecumenical organizations.

"This is a project that keeps happening and happening and happening," Fowler said.

A three-phase project was launched in 2010, with the first phase leading to new and improved mobile homes thanks to Western Maine Community Action, the town of Farmington and Community Development Block Grant funding. Then in 2015, new sewer and water lines were installed by E.L. Vining & Son and Dirigo Engineering, with funding provided by Maine Housing, Genesis Fund and a CDBG grant.

The third phase targeted the apartment buildings themselves. Two of the three deteriorating structures were built around the year 1900, while the third was built in the 1960s on a very low budget.

The $1.5 million project was financed through a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant for housing assistance, a $500,000 federal home loan bank grant and a $540,000 bank loan through FSB. Creative Engineering, Bruce Manzer Inc. and Cousineau Inc. were all involved in the construction, with Robert Zundel providing landscaping assistance. When the original construction company, Keiser Homes, went out of business, the general contractor Cousineau was able to secure a new company, Kent Homes, to fast track the project.

"I think it was a wonderful project and it was great to be a part of it," Randy Cousineau said.

Joey Cousineau agreed, saying that their company had met some "awfully great people" among the organizers, board members and tenants. The project had been a success, he said.

Resident Peggy Mayette, standing in her new living room with her dog Ella, agreed. She had moved out of her old mobile home and into the apartment, one of its first tenants. The building provided residents with more space, she said, describing it as "room to breathe," as well as laundry and storage in the basement.

The demolition of the old apartments was bittersweet, Fowler noted, as the buildings had more than 20,000 hours of volunteer work put into them. Still, he told the organizers, they had made the right decision.

Resident Peggy Mayette, standing in her new living room with her dog Ella.

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3 Responses »

  1. Many thanks to all involved in this project - The directors & staff of 82 High St. Inc., the contractors, the volunteers, the financial institutions, the residents, and many others. It's great what can be done when everyone pulls together!

  2. Some great changes to Sawtelle lane. Hope all appreciate the hard work and great improvements and take good care of the places and they will last many years.

  3. Myself and my crew were happy to be a part since Oct 12 / 16 !