HADDAM — The town has received $4.55 million from the state Department of Economic and Community Development to convert the former Haddam Elementary School into a combined senior center and affordable housing development.
The grant application noted that the money would be used to renovate 4,000 square feet of the building into a senior center, with space to convert it into a full community center. The money would also go toward building sidewalks along Route 154 to connect the center to the downtown business district, and would fund the purchase of a generator so the building could be used as an emergency shelter.
In addition to the senior center, the grant application proposed a partnership with Jeff Hartmann, president of Elm Tree Communities, to create 32 two-bedroom, affordable housing units for seniors in the former elementary school. Hartmann told CT Examiner he had developed one apartment complex in the area — Blueway Commons — and was looking forward to working on a second project with the town.
Haddam First Selectman Robert McGarry told CT Examiner he hadn’t expected to receive the grant money from the state, explaining that the town had twice applied for the grant but was not selected.
“I honestly didn’t expect a town as small as ours would have a shot at that larger grant,” he said.
McGarry emphasized that receiving the grant money from the state did not automatically mean the property would be used for senior housing. He said the town must put out an official request for proposals from developers. The town would then have to accept the chosen proposal at a Town Meeting.
Town Planner William Warner, who is acting as the project manager for the construction, told the community at a June 8 open house that Hartmann planned to contribute $500,000 in equity plus a $2.5 million loan for the project. Hartmann estimated the cost of the project at $7 million, and said his company would privately fund $3 million.
If the town approves the development, Hartmann would purchase the property for $200,000.
Hartmann told CT Examiner he believed Haddam’s proximity to Route 9, Middletown and the shoreline made it an ideal place to build the apartments. He also noted the current shortage of affordable housing in the area.
“There’s a waitlist right now for affordable apartments for seniors,” he said.
According to the grant application, there are currently 50 affordable housing units in Haddam.
The application explained that about half of Haddam’s residents are 50 years old or older, and that by 2030, one third of households would include people aged 65 and older. It also noted the completion of Haddam’s affordable housing plan, which “highlights the lack of suitable housing for Haddam’s senior population.”
“The senior population in Haddam, like many other small towns in particular, is the growing segment of our population,” McGarry said.
Property Use and Costs
The town purchased the former school in 2019 for $450,000, after the district closed it due to declining enrollment. In the fall of that year, the town commissioned a study and held workshops to brainstorm possible uses for the 32,000-square-foot site, along with other properties, all of which are being considered as pieces of a larger Higganum Center renovation.
In a letter published in H-K Now in May, McGarry said the town had hired an architect and requested bids to redo the building’s roof. He said the low bid was just over $1 million, prompting him to hold an open house in June to see if the community wanted to invest a large amount of money into the building.
At the meeting, residents floated a variety of proposals for the property. Some residents asked for more family-oriented or child-friendly spaces, such as a dog park, a skate park, indoor recreation spaces or community meeting spaces.
If the town voted to use part of the property for senior housing, McGarry told CT Examiner, about half of the former school would still remain for town use. He added that the town is already seeking architectural firms to conduct a building condition/utilization study to examine the possibility of moving municipal offices — the resident state troopers, Haddam-Killingworth Youth and Family Services, the food pantry and Haddam’s social services agency — into part of the building.
He said he also put out a request for proposals for a firm to design a multigenerational park on former elementary school grounds.
“What started the vision of all this is, we have an aging population. And again, very commonly, the grandparents provide some degree of child care for their children,” he said. “Part of this was a view of — you have the senior center there that the seniors will be hopefully attending, but they can go outside with their grandkids if they’re watching them, and you’ve got walking paths around that they can use. You’ve got the playscape and potentially a dog track or other things that would be more attractive to the kids. So it’s a mix of use of the whole property.”
Several residents at the June open house balked at the idea of selling the property to a developer for just $200,000. But McGarry responded that the property had been on the market for two years for $2 million, and no one had expressed interest.
“If this is the way it goes and we’re selling half of the building to a developer, they’re paying somewhat less than half the price that we acquired the building and grounds for, and yet we’re retaining the grounds and the building,” McGarry told CT Examiner. “So it seems a reasonable ask on our part.”
McGarry said the town received a grant for $480,000 from the state and put aside an additional $400,000 to fix the roof. If Haddam moved forward with developing affordable senior housing, the town would use the money to fix the roof on its portion of the building and use the rest in other areas – most likely toward starting the recreational park.
According to McGarry, a section of the property that borders the former Rossi lumberyard is still being considered for use as a community septic, and the town is working with an engineering firm on a septic system design.
“We’re going to have a patch of ground and, at no charge, we will allow a business or a residence to use [a] piece of it for their own septic fields,” he said. “So it’s not like a one big leach field. It’s a bunch of small fields that are built as needed.”
McGarry said the town will now have to work with the state Department of Economic and Community Development on a request for proposals for a senior housing developer.