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July 17, 2018 | last updated July 17, 2018 4:12 pm

Closure of Maine Girls' Academy sparks interest in development options

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
The Portland property that houses the Maine Girls' Academy, which will close at the end of the month, has already spurred inquiries from prospective buyers or developers, the owners said Monday. The former Sisters of Mercy convent, which is being developed into senior housing, can be seen in the background.

The Portland property that houses the Maine Girls' Academy, which will close at the end of the month, has already spurred inquiries from prospective buyers or developers, the owners said Monday.

It's too soon, though, for any decisions on what will happen to the 68,522-square-foot building, which is on 3.12 acres adjacent to the Motherhouse senior housing project, they said.

The property is owned by Sea Coast at Baxter Associates LLC, which includes Kevin Bunker and Matt Teare of Developers Collaborative, and Sea Coast Management, owned by John Wasileski. Bunker and Teare are buying out Wasileski in a deal that should be completed by next month, they said.

Bunker said Monday that the school property has many potential uses.

"It could be another school, community space, or we could integrate it into our master plan," he said.

But he added that since the school closing announcement was so recent, the discussion is just beginning.

"We found out [the school would close] perhaps two days before the public — we haven't had time to really think about the possibilities," he said. "That said we have had several unsolicited inquiries regarding the property and don't envision any trouble finding a reuse."

The Maine Girls' Academy, which operated out of the former Catherine McAuley School building since 2016, announced July 5 it will close. The school was leasing the property, which is on the corner of Stevens Avenue and Walton Street in the Deering neighborhood, from the owners.

"We were supporting the school and hoping they could make it," Teare said Monday.

"We've been focused on the Motherhouse project and have started focusing on the market rate community behind it," he said. "But we'll start focusing [on the school property] too."

Teare said that while the 1970 building needs some upgrades, it has a lot of redevelopment potential.

It also has an 80,000-square-foot asphalt parking lot.

The assessed value in the city property records is land value of $435,200 and building value of $1.73 million, for a net taxable real estate value of $2.165 million. The property is zoned for multi-use commercial.

According to city property tax records, Sea Coast at Baxter Woods Associates LLC bought the property from the Sisters of Mercy in 2016 for $2.7 million for the land and building.

Redevelopment and new construction

Bunker and Teare are developing 66 affordable units and 22 market rate units, all either studio or one-bedroom, in the Motherhouse building.

New construction behind it will add 161 market-rate apartments on 19 acres.

The first phase of the five-phase project, for a 45,000-square-foot 21-unit building, was approved by the planning board in January. The building would be four stories, the one parking with 28 spaces. The complex would eventually spread out to what are now ballfields at the back of the property.

In 2014 when Seacoast Management Co. first approached the Sisters of Mercy about buying the 12 acres on Stevens Avenue that included the Motherhouse, Head of School Kathryn Barr said the property had been for sale for more than 10 years.

Developers Collaborative has developed a number of school projects, most as housing. Among recent ones are the former Hodgkins Middle School in Augusta; St. Ignatius School in Sanford; Plummer School in Falmouth, done in partnership with Sea Coast management; Gilman School, in Waterville; and Emery School, Biddeford.

'It's a great neighborhood'

The property is next to the 32-acre Baxter Woods Park and in an area of the city that is seeing a surge of new businesses and restaurants. Elsmere BBQ & Wood Grill, a South Portland restaurant, last month opened its second location at 476 Stevens Ave. and Ice It! a Yarmouth bakery and cafe, opened a second location at 502 Stevens Ave.

Bunker said last week that Portland's downtown peninsula has become too pricey for many people who are still looking for city living.

"This has conservation land next to it, it's on the bus lines and you can get into town," Bunker said. "It's a great neighborhood."

The property owned by the developers also includes an older wing on the Motherhouse that was the original building on the site, which no development plans have been formed for yet. The Sisters of Mercy own another property at the site, St. Catherine's, a senior residence; Teare said there is an option agreement on that building.

The property being developed was part of 70 acres bought by the Portland Diocese on Stevens Avenue in 1881. St. Joseph Academy, a high school for girls, was on the site until it merged with Cathedral High School in 1969, becoming Catherine McAuley High School. The present high school building was built then.

McAuley, the only single-sex school in the state, closed in 2015 and then became the Maine Girls' Academy.

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