The Metro Realty Group LTD., of Farmington has submitted a proposal to the Town of Berlin to consider approval of the adaptive re-use of the former Kensington Grammar School located on Alling Street in Berlin. Metro envisions an elaborate restoration to senior rental housing in this historic structure. They are working their way through the State of Connecticut’s permitting process to receive approval of the former school as a certified historic structure recognized on both the State and Federal registers of historic places.
Metro has already secured listing of Kensington Grammar School on the Connecticut Register of Historic Places and it is in the process of seeking listing on the National Historic registry. The developer is proposing to preserve the important historic qualities of the building and to renovate it in conformance with the rigorous U. S. Department of Interior standards.
"The building is a blight on the neighborhood," Mayor Adam Salina said. "I remember using the building when I was in high school when it was the community center and that's probably the last time it was used. To walk through and see what has become of the building is sad."
The issue was discussed in executive session at the Town Council meeting Tuesday night.
"After the executive session we had to come back and take action on the matter," Salina said. "We voted on it and it was passed unanimously by a 6-0 vote. There was unified support to go forward."
Councilor Eric Buhrendorf was absent from the meeting.
Building plans are not final for this as–of–yet unnamed development, but thoughts are that the building would contain thirty-three units of senior rental housing. Metro is the owner and developer of Orchard Ridge senior housing on Webster Street and Stonebridge senior housing just of Deming Road in the area of Wethersfield Road, both in Berlin and they pay significant real estate taxes to the Town.
A number of developers have attempted to plan and implement the redevelopment of the school site but none has succeeded. The neighborhood is anchored by St. Paul’s Church and School and by well kept residences. The vacant Kensington School building has long been a blight on that neighborhood. Recent physical inspections of the premises indicate that the rate of building deterioration is accelerating, for a myriad of reasons including water infiltration.
A second component proposed by Metro on the same site is 34 market rate apartments in nine small buildings that are intended to take advantage of the location as “Transit Oriented” due to close proximity to the Berlin Train Station. The project attempts to reinforce the Town’s initiative to redevelop the area of the Train Station to create a mixed use Village that will attract young people and other members of the workforce who can use the planned commuter rail service on the New Haven, Hartford, Springfield line.
To attract this younger demographic, Metro’s plans call for 18 one bedroom units and 16 two bedroom / two bathroom units. Metro hopes that young, “twenty – something” Berlin residents will consider living in town upon completion of their studies. The State’s plan is to start the new commuter and intercity rail service in 2016. The site is within easy walking distance of the train station and is close to banking, restaurants, stores and other services. Sidewalks connecting to downtown are already in place.
In order for the development proposal to move forward it will require a partnership with the Town of Berlin involving sale of four small parcels of Town land to the developer at appraised fair market value. In addition, a portion of the bird sanctuary will be re-located. The developer proposes to work with the Town to assist the process of improving the remaining area of the sanctuary or establishing a new sanctuary location. The Town Council discussed the proposed property sales in Executive Session and has referred the matter to the Planning and Zoning Commission as required under section 8-24 of the Connecticut General Statutes. The project will also require amendments to the Town’s Zoning Regulations. Metro Realty plans to prepare proposed zoning changes and submit them to the Planning and Zoning Commission for consideration.
“The adaptive re-use of the former Kensington School would be one of the town’s most significant redevelopment projects and would significantly boost the taxes the town receives from the property." said Berlin Mayor Adam Salina. "It is similar to the Lofts at Sherwood Falls in that it proposes to renovate an endangered historic architectural structure. If action is not taken soon, the building is likely to deteriorate beyond repair due to the leaking roof and other defects.
"The Kensington Grammar School has stood vacant long enough. It is time for the property to be restored as a community landmark. The town has had a dialogue about the property with Metro for many months. Metro has a very successful track record of developing high quality residential projects in Berlin. Other developers have not been able to secure financing to proceed with the project. Given the difficult financial markets and deteriorating building condition this project requires an innovative development solution.
"By combining the historic restoration of the school for affordable senior apartments and market rate transit oriented development apartments, Metro has created a project plan that is financeable and that offers to address multiple community needs and to support the evolving plans for redevelopment of the Berlin Train Station area. This project is complex and will involve many local approvals as well as partial funding support from the State of Connecticut. I look forward to working with Metro Realty Group, Ltd. to engage in the public review and approval process to set the course for a major transformation of the site.”