St. Mary school to be transformed into affordable housing

New London — St. Mary Star of the Sea School closed its doors at the end of the school year in 2012, a move that some considered tragic but necessary because of declining enrollment and mounting financial hurdles.

Now, the former Roman Catholic elementary school that educated scores of students in grades 1 through 8 for more than a century, is on the verge of rebirth. A ceremonial groundbreaking was held at the rear of the 10 Huntington St. building on Tuesday to mark the long-awaited start of construction of St. Mary Place, a 20-unit affordable housing complex.

“We are thrilled to begin this project, as we have a tremendous need for affordable housing in Connecticut,” said The Connection CEO and President Lisa DeMatteis-Lepore.

The Connection, a statewide human services and community development agency, secured a 99-year-lease for the property from the church. The Connection will develop, construct and manage the complex and provide the management and supportive services for the residents. It will also pay taxes to the city since it is not claiming property tax exemption.

The building will house a mix of one-bedroom and studio apartments, eight of which are handicap accessible and include onsite management and case management services. Five of the units are dedicated to referrals from the coordinated access network as part of an effort to address the chronically homeless.

“It took a very, very long time to get this off the ground. It’s a blessing to know this will continue the mission of this church and of this school in a different form,” said The Most Rev. Michael Cote, Bishop of Norwich, at the gathering behind the former school, opposite a construction trailer.

The cost of the apartments is roughly $7 million and included a varied mix of funding sources, the main ones being federal historic tax credits and low-income housing tax credits from the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority.

Much of the funding would not have been available if the plan had not been for the adaptive reuse of the building, said Beth A. Hogan, The Connection’s director of government and community partnerships.

Connecticut Housing Finance Authority Executive Director Karl Kilduff said considering the obstacles, it takes someone with vision to develop such a project.

The Connection also operates the Jefferson Commons development near New London High School and programs like the January Center, a residential sex offender treatment facility on the grounds of Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Institution. As a condition of the local zoning approval, the Huntington Street apartment complex cannot lease to registered sex offenders.

St. Mary Star of the Sea Elementary School was established in 1892 by the Sisters of Mercy and still holds a lot of fond memories for locals who attended the school or whose children attended.

Joanne Davis of Waterford, who attended Tuesday’s ceremony and is a parishioner at St. Mary, said she and her five siblings all attended the school.

“If not used for a school, better for it to be used for something that fits a need that is so incredibly important in our community,” Davis said. “It has a whole new purpose and a whole new life.”

Construction is expected to be completed in the spring of 2020.

g.smith@theday.com

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