Plans to convert Simpkins School to 65 rental apartments

A glimpse at the future for the school on Old Main Street

Aerial view of the 80-year-old John Simpkins elementary school on Old Main Street in South Yarmouth. A public hearing Thursday evening at the Yarmouth Senior Citizens Services Center and a visit to the site earlier in the day revealed plans to re-use the building, which has not been in use since 2006. The $8.1 million project would involve converting the building into 65 rental apartments for people 55 years of age and older. (photo provided by Town of Yarmouth)

By Gerald Rogovin

The John Simpkins Elementary was named for John Simpkins, a Massachusetts Congressman from Yarmouth in the late 1890's and originally opened in 1930 for all grades. It became an elementary school in 1958. Christopher Setterlund photo.

South Yarmouth residents, who've been wondering for a long time what's in store at the closed John Simpkins Elementary School on Old Main Street, got their first official inkling Thursday evening(11/18/10) at the Yarmouth Services Center.

A visit to the site was scheduled in mid-afternoon on Thursday.

Hints of the prospective use of the 80-year-old school building, which before it closed in 2006, housed 225 pupils and 40 teachers and staff, had turned up in the neighborhood for months. A letter written to the Cape Cod Commission in September by Town Administrator Robert C. Lawton had praised a proposal to convert the school to senior rental housing.

Eighteen months before, two committees working in behalf of the town had studied how the 41,834 square-foot building could be re-used. It occupies just under half of a 4.1-acre parcel on the north side of Old Main Street and adjacent to town-owned baseball fields. But the weak economy put on hold whatever recommendations they were considering.

Thursday's hearing, part of the land use planning process involving the Commission and Cape Cod towns for projects of this size, gave residents the opportunity to comment, view project plans and the site. The hearing was required because of the proposed number of rental units, 65.

Stratford Capital Group, Inc., a real estate investment and devgelopment company, in Peabody, Massachusetts,is the project applicant. The firm would renovate the existing building and add 39,366 square feet of area to create 65 rental apartments for people 55 years of age and older.

New proposed name: Simpkins School Residences

Stratford proposes naming it the Simpkins School Residences.

In its 14 years of existence, Stratford has underwritten and developed more than 17,700 apartment units in 22 states, with a capitalized value of $1.3 billion, according to the firm's website. Many of the projects were similar re-uses of existing, but closed, historic elementary schools.
By preserving a historic school, and rehabilitating it to meet federal standards, part of Stratford's costs would be underwritten by state and federal programs. These include income housing credits, affordable housing trust funds, funding from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Development and housing stabilization funds.

In its application, Stratford estimated a budget of $14,862,000 for the project. Of that, $8.1 million would be for construction. While a three-story addition at the rear of the building is under construction, the company had promised to take extra precautions to preserve the existing exterior.

There were 109 parking spaces when the school was operating. Stratford plans to have 98, the minimum number required by zoning. The company will increase and upgrade parking for the adjacent athletic fields. It will also move an existing baseball field to accomodate the parking improvements.

Green building techniques and sustainable design features will be integrated into the construction of the proposed addition. The existing buffer to Old Main Street will be kept to allow the renovated building to mesh with the historic character of the existing street and other buildings. Trees will be planted in the rear of the building as part of the proposed parking are, one tree for every 18 vehicles.

Ninety percent of the units would be rented to seniors who earn no more than 60 percent of the area's median income. Ten percent of the units would be set aside for seniors earning 30 percent of that amount.

In his September letter to the Commission, Lawton described the project as "very much a partnership of the Town of Yarmouth and Simpkins School Residences -- a quintessential public-private partnership. welcomes thoughtful comments and the varied opinions of our readers. We are in no way obligated to post or allow comments that our moderators deem inappropriate. We reserve the right to delete comments we perceive as profane, vulgar, threatening, offensive, racially-biased, homophobic, slanderous, hateful or just plain rude. Commenters may not attack or insult other commenters, readers or writers. Commenters who persist in posting inappropriate comments will be banned from commenting on