Kiril Lozanov of Belfast has purchased the former Crosby School, which had been vacant for a decade, with a vision of revitalizing the space as a multiuse building.

Lozanov plans to include office space, a functional theater for musical and theatrical performances, creative spaces that are open to the public, cooperative rental housing and a restaurant, he said in a press release Dec. 31. Although the infrastructure is in place for many of these intended uses, some restoration work is needed, he noted.

“The Crosby School has a long history of benefiting the Belfast community, and many long-term residents have deep ties to the building,” Lozanov said. “I see countless possibilities to use this space to bring cultural events to Belfast, foster learning among community members, and provide much-needed rental housing and office space in the downtown area.”

Crosby School was constructed in 1923 on the site of a former school and town hall, and the school was in operation until 1993. Then, in 1996, the city of Belfast sold the 36,000-square-foot building to the National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped (NTWH), which spent an estimated $3.5 million on renovations and used the property seasonally. After bustling with activity for several summers, the building then fell into disuse.

City Planner Wayne Marshall referred to the building as "significant."

“Its use started to decline around 2004, and in the last nine years, a lot of ideas have been circulating for possible redevelopment," he said. "Now it’s good to see someone stepping forward who lives in Belfast and is willing to give the building life again.”

Lozanov is an engineer and an owner of Capital City Renewables, a firm that installs solar energy systems and meteorological towers and conducts wind-resource assessment campaigns for potential wind farms. He has installed 12 residential solar systems at Belfast Cohousing, where he has resided for the last few years.

Lozanov plans to revitalize Crosby in phases over several years and is now looking for heating solutions that do not rely on fuel oil. He has already put in a request to the city for permission to install solar panels as an awning on the south side of the structure.

“I would like this building to be energy independent and not rely on fossil fuels for heating, cooling, or lighting or for running appliances,” Lozanov said.

That use would fit with the surrounding zoning district,  according to Marshall. However, the addition of solar panels required a review by the city's In-Town Design Review Committee, which must approve certain kinds of exterior changes to downtown buildings.

Marshall said any major renovations to the Crosby School in the future would probably go through the contract rezoning process, which allows a developer to propose plans that might not be allowed in a surrounding zoning district, and gives the city control over how a property is redeveloped.

NTWH previously added housing on the third floor of the building, creating 14 bedrooms and 12 bathrooms. In the first phase of the revitalization, Lozanov will offer cooperative rental housing on the third floor with a shared kitchen, dining room, and living room, along with private bedrooms and bathrooms, he said.

Lozanov lived in a family-friendly cooperative house in Madison, Wis., for five years. There, members shared in the cleaning and maintenance of the home and enjoyed several organic, vegetarian meals together each week. He plans to offer a similar furnished living arrangement in Belfast starting early in the spring. Lozanov intends to use the property as both as his residence and his workspace.

“Our hope is that at least a portion of the building can be used for rental housing because there is a need for that in Belfast,” Marshall said. “We think having more people living on the edge of downtown will add to the vitality of Belfast.”

The city has shown considerable support for the revitalization of this vacant property at 96 Church St. Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge said the city changed the building’s zoning in 2014 to facilitate multiuse redevelopment and has helped fund studies of the property.

“The city has taken a keen interest in this property and wants it to be successful,” Kittredge said.

Crosby School had been on the market for years, and Marshall said he believes this was in part due to the asking price, the size of the structure, and the funds needed to renovate it.

“NTWH did a lot of cleanup work to make it a good, usable structure,” Marshall said. “Unfortunately, it has been unheated for years. There was surface mold in 2010, and NTWH completed some direct remediation work to abate a condition that was starting to redevelop.”

A recent environmental assessment of the building in October 2016, which included collecting samples throughout the building, revealed “acceptable ranges for mold growth,” he said.

Lozanov said he has determined that installing an energy-efficient heating and cooling solution for the building is his top priority. There may be seasonal use of some spaces until the new heating system is installed.

“The Crosby School is now in another bounce-back phase, just as life in Belfast has had to bounce back a few times in the past,” Marshall said.