What has a new inside, a new, taller building next to it, and jobs temporary and permanent? The former Wiscasset Primary School within the next two years, according to one of the people working to make it happen. Selectmen heard from Robert Kelley of Optimus Senior Living in a public hearing Tuesday night, Nov. 16 on Zoom, then set a special town meeting for Dec. 7.
Kelley said the ex-school is dilapidated and is deteriorating rapidly; the Wiscasset Senior Living project, which may start this winter, will demolish the interior, leaving “a shell”; replace the windows and roofing, add an enclosed courtyard at the building’s front; to the left when viewing the building from the road would be kitchenette-style assisted living units about 600 square feet each with one or two bedrooms; to the right, memory care units – an area secured, but unlocked automatically if a fire breaks out; the “Crossroads” program, for mild cognitive impairment; and further back in the building, the main entrance, reception area, a social pub for residents, their families and professionals; a nurses’ station, conference room, offices for the executive director, business office manager and marketing director; where the gym is now, dining and part of the kitchen; and where the stage is, a fitness area and, he recalled, a chapel and possibly a theater.
Kelley said a hallway would lead to a t-shaped, multi-level building, about 60% of the project’s total floor area. Its first floor will have full-kitchen, assisted living apartments; above them, independent units, for “folks that can still drive mainly or they might have lost their license only because of sight, but they’re otherwise independent enough to do everything on their own.”
In all, the project would yield about 30 independent units, plus 23 or 24 memory care ones and from 40 to 45 assisted living ones, Kelley said.
The hearing was on the proposed tax increment financing (TIF) district developers seek and voters will decide. Town attorney Shanna Mueller recapped the TIF and a would-be credit enhancement deal. She said, over five years, the deal grabs fewer and fewer of the extra taxes the project yields, and gives it back to the developer: 100% goes back to the developer the first year, and then 20% less for each of the next four years; all the taxes after that are 100% Wiscasset’s, according to Mueller and the proposal.
The time it tends to take to fill the units is part of why the TIF is sought, Kelley said. The place is proposed to open late spring 2023, and “they tend to fill up slower than a normal apartment building ... so we don’t tend to be at a stable place until 36 to 39 months after opening.”
Selectboard Chair Sarah Whitfield told him they might be filled sooner than he thinks. “I’m really excited for this project,” she said. Selectman Terry Heller said people have already started asking her. “This is going to really take off, I think,” Heller said.
The project would mean construction jobs for over a year and then permanent jobs from maintenance and housekeeping, to nursing and home health, to upper management, Kelley said. “We have activity directors, we have maintenance directors, we have marketing directors. So, there’s really good jobs to be added to the town of Wiscasset.”
Asked for any job numbers, Kelley said Optimus living communities tend to have about 35 permanent full-time workers, and others part time or close to full time, “so, all in, it’s like a 50 full-time (workforce) when you add up your part-time with your full-time,” or more like 60 given the community is seven days a week, he said. He added, plumbing, electrical and plowing needs come up that call for hiring outside workers. A senior living community is a job creator, he said.
He did not have construction job numbers with him. Mueller understood it would be about 200.
Morris Farm Trust’s board president, Madelyn Hennessey, asked if the senior living community would mind farm smells coming from Morris Farm next door, like from raising pigs, as the farm plans to do.
“How intense is that farm going to be,” Kelley asked.
Not a giant pig farm, more a demonstration, with meat and babies sold, Hennessey said. Then Kelley said as long as it is not an intense use, “we probably would welcome it ... We tend to use farm animals to entertain our dementia care population.” The two also mulled Optimus possibly letting Morris Farm event goers park there.
Hennessey then spoke as an area resident. There is a crying, absolutely devastating need for senior housing, she said.
Kelley responded, “We would really, really look forward to having a very well-attended community, because it makes for a better town. It really does. You’ll see how wonderful it is ... We’re going to be importing seniors ... from other towns,” and their families will use the local restaurants and other low-intensity businesses, he said.
No one spoke against Wiscasset Senior Living or the TIF for the Gardiner Road property. Town Manager Dennis Simmons said he has heard only positive comments. The open special town meeting is set for Wiscasset Community Center Dec. 7, along with a selectmen’s meeting there that night. The board plans to also have a Maine State Retirement System opt-in on the special town meeting warrant.
Also Nov. 16, the board named Wallace G. Giakas an at large member to the Future of Wiscasset Schools Committee, approved Huntoon Hill Grange for bingo and games of chance in 2022, and accepted Wiscasset Area Chamber of Commerce’s $308 donation to the Appearance of the Town Committee.