Friday, September 18, 2009

Olde Woolen Mill Renovation Nears Completion

By Barbara Leech
Staff Columnist
October 1 is move in day at the Olde Woolen Mill building in downtown North Berwick. The $9 million renovation project conducted by the Massachusetts based Caleb Foundation, is nearing completion creating 40 unique apartments for low-and moderate income age 55 and older.
Debra Nutter, Executive Director of the Caleb Foundation, an interfaith organization that develops, preserves and manages rental communities for low to moderate income residents, says that half of the units have been rented leaving about 20 units still available. She says the final result of the renovation is well worth all the hard work that went into it.
“It really is an amazing transformation from the building we first saw two years ago, which had not been used for so many years, to these beautiful apartments,” she says. “Each apartment is different, due to the floor plan of the original building and some are so close to overlooking the river you could fly fish out of your apartment….not that I am recommending that.”
The Olde Woolen Mill Building was once alive with activity, producing woolen blankets, beginning with those that were made for soldiers in the Civil War. It closed its doors in 1955 and has been untouched except for being filmed for scenes in the 1995 film Jumanji.
Nutter says the Caleb Foundation found several big challenges in this project, buying the dilapidated structure for $960,000 with the hopes that they could meet the costly demands of renovation.
“It was in horrible condition. Trees were growing up through the floor and it really needed a complete gutting,” she said. “It seems like a miracle to see it looking as it does now, preserved and renovated. It is just beautiful.”
The apartments have been constructed in the shell of the historic building, each fitting their own niche in the original architectural design. This is why no two units are identical. Original brickwork remains and molding and exposed beams highlight each unit as well as floor to ceiling windows, with many units overlooking the Great Works River.
The criteria for qualifying to rent one of the units is being 55 and older and making no more than $39,000 a year. Rental is being offered starting at $629 to $829 a month, heat included. According to Kim Eastman, who heads up qualifying tenants in the application process, income and assets for the past three years have to be verified. Though the building is intended for those 55 and over, parents over 55 with children under 18 are invited to apply. The point is to help provide a safe, comfortable home for low- to moderate income people.
“I started out working with my dad on projects such as this thirty years ago,” Nutter says of the Caleb Foundation. “We became non-profit fifteen years ago and we search for projects like this, some that nobody else would take on and hope we can help make a difference in that community.”
The foundation, according to their website, was named after a biblical character named Caleb, who was unafraid of challenges, obstacles and overwhelming odds. Caleb’s determination and sense of purpose enabled him to see opportunity where others saw only difficulty.
One of the difficulties encountered with the Olde Woolen Mill renovation project was finding funding for the $9 million needed to complete the plans.
The Northern New England Housing Investment Fund purchased nearly $2 million in tax credits. TD BankNorth pur-chased a combined total of $3.6 million in two different tax credits available for low income housing and historic renovation, and Maine State Housing Authority gave a subsidy of $1.3 million.
“We had a number of investors that came along and bought tax credits that took care of more than half the projected costs,” she said. “The remainder, about $1.5 million, we have in a low interest loan. Thankfully it all came together.”
For more information about the Olde Woolen Mill, call (207) 282-7177. To learn more about the Caleb foundation visit
Photo caption: October 1 is move in day at the Olde Woolen Mill building in downtown North Berwick. (Courtesy photo)