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Waltham councillors give green light to transforming the rest of the former Banks School into elderly housing

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  January 18, 2013 04:29 PM

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City councilors decided to continue funding a project to renovate the Banks School's interior, transforming classrooms into condominium units for the elderly.

Waltham city councilors gave the OK to Mayor Jeannette McCarthy this week to use $3.5 million in municipal bonds to turn the rest of the former Banks School on South Street into a 24 condominiums for the elderly.

McCarthy said the project, which focuses on internal renovations, will likely be completed within a year. The city plans to sell the units, which are mostly one- and two-bedroom condos, to citizens aged 62 and over.

"It’s a big building in a very prominent place in the West End," McCarthy said. "This will be great project for the neighborhood."

McCarthy said the city previously used about $1 million to turn the top floor of the three-story building into seven condominium units, but had to halt the entire renovation project "because the city didn't have the money."

The mayor said officials plan to put the project out for bid and will also start advertising the condo building.

Since 2007, city officials have discussed what to do with the former school at the intersection of South and Main streets, which was declared surplus in 2005. During the course of debate, officials discussed whether they should sell the vacant building as it was, or if they went ahead with renovations, whether the city should sell or rent out the completed condominium units.

Since the building also serves as a voting venue for the district, officials also debated if they should keep a part of the building for municipal use when needed.

"These were all healthy issues to debate," said Waltham city councilor Gary Marchese, who represents the district where the building sits. "The city's not the best landlord, simply because we don't rent out buildings very often. It made the most sense to convert it and then sell it."

City officials are also planning to set aside some condo units to be sold at below market rates, which would add to the city's stock of affordable units.

There were also debates in the past few years about whether to make the whole building affordable or to lean towards market-rate units, Marchese said.

However, "We ended up on a good path to success, and the proof is in the pudding," Marchese said.

Officials hope to break even or profit on the investment when it comes time to sell the units.

"It makes the most sense to try and make this money back for the taxpayers," Marchese said, although he added that breaking even might be "a bit ambitious."

Marchese said although the project has encountered many obstacles and false starts, he was glad to see the building renovations come to fruition.

"This will help keep older Waltham residents in Waltham," he said, noting that city officials hope to give current city residents as much preference for buying the units as the law allows. "We wanted to convert the old building into a new condo that the neighborhood can be proud of."

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Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com

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