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Lynn aims for senior housing at former marshall middle school

The old Marshall Middle School on Porter Street in Lynn . (File Photo)

LYNN — City officials are finalizing a Request for Proposals to solicit developers’ plans for turning the former Thurgood Marshall Middle School into affordable senior housing.

Officials are seeking proposals four months after rejecting a bid for its potential reuse into senior housing — the City Council said B’nai B’rith Housing, a Brighton nonprofit that builds affordable homes for seniors in Greater Boston, the only bidder in the city’s last Request for Proposals (RFP) did not meet the requirements of the RFP.

The RFP Committee discussed changes for the redevelopment of the 95-year-old former school building on Porter Street on Tuesday night, with plans to solicit proposals next month.

Unlike the last RFP, which asked for a maximum of 120 units, developers can now submit plans with an unlimited number of units, as long as they comply with the one parking space per unit requirement, according to James Lamanna, the city’s attorney.

The new RFP, which is meant to be less restrictive, is also flipped on allowing more subsidized housing for seniors 62 and older — last time, city officials asked for 80 percent market-rate and 20 percent subsidized, but now the preference will be for at least 80 percent subsidized and 20 percent market-rate units, Lamanna said.

Last time, the city asked for developers to pay a minimum sales price of $4 million, but this time around, there is no minimum bid, but $4 million is the suggested bid.

“If we don’t give any indication of what we’re looking for, we could get ridiculously low bids that we’re going to throw out,” said John Ford, a member of the School Committee who sits on the RFP Committee.

Ultimately the City Council and School Committee, the latter of which has final say on the sale, will have to decide if the property is worth selling depending on the bid, or if the property should be land banked, with the building torn down and the lot reserved for future school use, most likely for an elementary school, Lamanna said. Proceeds from the sale would go to the school department for capital needs, such as a future school or school repairs.

With the previous process, the city would have contributed $2.2 million for the demolition of the shuttered school, but this time around, the developer will incur the cost of demolition, according to City Council President Darren Cyr.

Ford said, as far as the School Committee is concerned, proposals have to be solicited for senior housing, rather than apartments that allow families with kids.

“If they don’t have senior housing and it’s going to be apartments, then the School Committee will not approve it,” Ford said. “It’s not that we don’t like kids, it’s just that we don’t have room for any more. We just don’t have room in the schools. We’re bursting at the seams right now.”

He said the building is school property and the School Committee is not going to give it up to make their situation worse. The school department also needs money to build new schools.

“There’s a real need for senior housing in the city,” Ford said. “A lot of people, when they retire, they want to downsize when their kids leave the house. It’s difficult. If we can get more housing for seniors and not increase the student population, it’s a win. And we would get money.”

Ford said he’s against land banking the property for an elementary school to be built because Ingalls and Aborn Elementary schools are nearby. To put another one nearby is not wise. If Aborn were to be replaced, it would be more prudent to do so on its existing site, he said.

The City Council also authorized the city to obtain a $5.8 million bond for repairs to the Hood Elementary School, which was built in 1961 and is located on Oakwood Avenue.

The funding will pay for the design and replacement of the roof and windows/doors.

As of late April, the city was to be reimbursed up to $4.2 million upon completion of the project by the Massachusetts School Building Authority, a quasi-independent government authority created to fund capital improvement projects in public schools. The remainder of the cost would be picked up by the city.

Cyr said Hood school desperately needs new windows and a new roof. Because of the amount of money that needs to be spent on those components, the city is also required to make the building handicap accessible with the funding.

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