Notre Dame project hopes to get work underway soon

BERLIN – The organization overseeing the conversion of the former Notre Dame High School into a 33-unit service-enriched senior housing project hopes to get construction underway around Thanksgiving.
AHEAD (Affordable Housing Education Development) Senior Project Manager Olivia Beleau said the agency is working to close on the financing for the project. It is waiting to hear back from the National Park Service, which administers the historic preservation tax credits that make up part of the financing of the project. The agency has submitted the second phase of the application describing the proposed rehabilitation. The NPS must certify that the project meets the standards set for historic rehabilitation.
The financing for the project is complicated with as many as eight different funders involved. Beleau said AHEAD hopes to close with the funders around Thanksgiving. AHEAD will also close with the city, which has a purchase and sale agreement to turn the building over to AHEAD.
Once AHEAD has closed on the financing, Beleau said the agency hopes to get construction underway immediately.
Bids for the construction work came in higher than expected, forcing the agency to make some changes in the project.
Beleau said while the overall budget for the project is almost $8 million, the construction budget is $6 million. She said the low bid for the construction work came in at about $6.5 million.
"There just wasn't enough money," she said.
To keep the project within budget, Beleau said AHEAD was forced to make a number of changes.
One of the changes, eliminating a 17- space parking lot on the east side of the building, was discussed with the Berlin planning board last week. The planning board ruled the elimination of the parking lot was not a major change to the site plan approved in July.
Parking will still be available on the west side of the building and Beleau said AHEAD hopes there will be money left in contingency and additional grants to be able to do the east parking lot in the future.
To cut costs, the floor finish material was changed and a different manufacturer for the windows was selected. Beleau stressed the building will still meet all handicap access, life safety, and housing code requirements.
Beleau said this fall they want to start on the roof and the demolition of the interior. The city actually gave AHEAD permission to start the roof work last month without a formal closing. But Beleau said their insurance company would not issue coverage until AHEAD has closed on the property.
The building has presented some challenges because there is a 35 to 40 difference in elevation between the south and north sides of the property as well as five different levels in the building. In addition to a market study, the project also required a historic consultant. HEB Engineers of North Conway did the architectural and engineering plans.
The project has been a long one. The original developer, Tri-County Community Action Program, ran into financial problems and AHEAD agreed to step in and take over the project last year.
"We were very lucky to get to this point," said Beleau. She praised the work of the Project Rescue Notre Dame group in initiating the effort to save the building and the support provided by the city.
The complex will contain 33 one-bedroom apartments for senior citizens. Residents must have an income level at or below 50 percent of the medium area income, which comes to a maximum annual income of about $21,000. Some services will be available on-site.
"It's going to be a fabulous building when we are done," Beleau promised.