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Former Crosby High School under contract

Buyer seeks approval for small solar array; larger plans unknown
By Ethan Andrews | Dec 20, 2016
Courtesy of: City of Belfast A sketch of a proposed solar panel awning along the south side of the former Crosby High School on Church and Miller streets. The building is under contract with a final sale possible by year-end.

Belfast — Less than a month after an anticipated sale fell through, the former Crosby High School building is under contract with a closing possible before the end of 2016.

The impending sale crept into city business this week when the planning office got a request to put a small awning of solar panels along the south flank of the building.

The applicant, Kiril Lozanov, confirmed Dec. 20 that he has the building under contract to buy. Lozanov said he is still working possible uses and would make an announcement after the closing.

"The building needs some repairs and much community support," he wrote in an email to The Republican Journal. "So far the city has been very supportive as well ... I am excited to help bring this special building back to life. The possibilities there are countless."

Lozanov did not say when the closing would be. City Planner Wayne Marshall indicated it could be by the end of the year.

Marshall said he was first approached by Lozanov Dec. 7. They toured the building and on a separate occasion met for 90 minutes to talk about the environmental condition of the building, among other things.

The 36,000-square-foot former school, owned by National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped, had recently been under contract in a deal involving Coastal Enterprises Inc., investors from the Portland area, and Belfast Stagehouse, a group seeking to open a performing arts venue in Belfast. According to several sources close to the sale, that deal fell through several days before the planned closing date for reasons unrelated to the building.

Since then, Marshall said he has walked through the building with two parties and fielded phone and email inquiries from two others.

Marshall said Lozanov has expressed interest in making part of the building on the third floor a private residence, for which the solar panels would provide electricity. Lozanov is owner and CEO of Capital City Renewables, a business dealing in solar and wind energy projects.

That use would fit with the surrounding zoning district, he said. 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.

The William G. Crosby School was built in 1923 as a high school and later served as the city's middle school. It was closed in 1991 after students and staff complained that the air was making them sick. The problems, which may persist in some form today, were blamed on the building's leak-prone flat roof and renovations in 1975 that closed the building's ventilation system and added airtight windows in an attempt to conserve heat.

In 1995, the former school was scooped up for $200,000 by National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped, a theater school for people with disabilities, founded by the late Jesuit Father Rick Curry.

Curry and NTWH put more than $1 million into renovations, converting the upper two floors to dormitory-style suites for students attending summer workshops, and making major improvements to the central auditorium. The renovation was hailed as a rebirth for the school and for Belfast, which was reeling from the departure of the poultry industry and other factory jobs.

NTWH ran into financial troubles and 2005 nearly lost the former high school building to a foreclosure auction. By 2007, the organization had ceased its Belfast programs and the problems that had plagued the building gradually returned. A 2010 study by the city found that the building needed $1.5 million in repairs, including $67,000 in mold remediation. A developer who later announced plans to convert the building to apartments backed away after an environmental review.

Marshall said he's encouraged that someone is stepping forward to buy the iconic building, where some local residents attended school. He also let on some anticipation for the next chapter in the life of the building.

"The adaptation of the building is often where it's at," he said. Marshall noted that most buildings downtown today are used, known, and sometimes beloved for something unrelated to their original purposes.

Likewise, the next owner of the Crosby School will shape the new identity of that building.

"People who come to Belfast in 2016 or 2018, that's what their connection to Belfast will be," he said.

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Comments (2)
Posted by: Rebekka Freeman | Dec 21, 2016 10:10

Yipee Ki Yi Yay !! Miracles do occur !!!


Dr Rebekka Freeman-Merrithew

Posted by: Virgil Fowles Jr | Dec 20, 2016 19:49

I'm fairly certain the Crosby High School Alumni Committee would be thrilled  with anything viable and useful and a  benefit to the City of Belfast, the old girl needs some love and attention.

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