BY COLLEEN P. CLARK
The much-loved Springside School, the oldest school building in Burlington Township, could become the latest affordable housing site in the area if everything moves forward with a proposed plan discussed at the latest township council meeting.
The township has state-mandated affordable housing obligations to meet due to the future Riverwalk development, a proposed 250-unit townhome community on Aqua Lane. When the Riverwalk was discussed at last month’s meeting, the site of the affordable housing component had yet to be determined.
However, Administrator Kevin McLernon said the Burlington Township Council approved a resolution last week authorizing the township to negotiate with MEND, Inc., Conifer, Inc. and the Burlington Township Board of Education for the acquisition and development of the former school, which closed in 2007.
“The school cannot sell the property by itself so the (district) will be selling the property to the township and the township will turn it over to MEND,” McLernon said. “A couple of agreements have to be in place before it occurs.”
MEND, a local nonprofit that develops, builds, owns and manages affordable rental housing in the region, would own, develop and manage the property.
According to MEND CEO and President Matthew Reilly, this is not the first time the corporation has redeveloped a former school.
MEND currently owns and manages a 33-unit senior citizen development that was the former Lenola grammar school in Moorestown. It was acquired and renovated in 1986.
Though the Burlington Township project is in very preliminary stages, Reilly did give some details about what would happen to Springside School.
Currently, the plans call for 75 one-bedroom apartments. All of the apartments would be reserved for low- to moderate-income residents, but the majority, 60 to be exact, would be age-restricted for those 55 and older.
While a rent amount has not yet been determined, Reilly said all residents must meet annual income minimums and maximums as determined by the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Nine local churches founded MEND, located in Moorestown, in 1969. The organization has grown considerably since then, receiving several local awards for its commitment to the community as well as having its development, Medford Senior Residence, named one of four nationwide finalists for “Best Senior Citizen Housing Development, 2010-2011” by Affordable Housing Finance magazine.
Reilly said MEND looks forward to working with the township on this latest project. Springside School is not just a historical building, but it’s attractive and well-suited for adaptive re-use, he said. Located at 1508 Mount Holly Road (Route 541), it’s also in close proximity to major roads and retail, he said.
The last group of students walked out the front doors of Springside School in June of 2007, and since then the school has been used by the Board of Education for administration and storage. Reilly said the building is structurally sound but it does need some roof repairs. MEND is still working on an estimated cost to redevelop the building, so Reilly said it is too early to give any numbers.
They do, however, have a timeline. Reilly hopes to begin construction no later than November 2012 and have the affordable housing complete in early 2014.
“MEND looks forward to working with Burlington Township to breathe new life into this highly-visible and prominent civic structure,” Reilly said. “Together we will preserve the past while creating much-needed affordable rental homes for our elderly brothers and sisters who need a good, affordable place to call ‘home.’
“We will not be surprised to find that graduates of Springside School become residents at the new facility,” he said.