It seems there could hardly be a more benign use for a former school than for it to be converted to housing.
Such buildings generally are situated on large properties offering ample parking. The interior structures of the buildings — a series of rooms clustered on a central hallway — are easily broken up into apartments.
For neighbors, an apartment building next door should surely be more appealing than conversion into a commercial or light industrial site.
But surprisingly, neighbors of the former Charles M. Floyd Elementary School on Highland Avenue in Derry say a proposed conversion of the building to a 20-unit apartment complex is “too extreme.” They say it would negatively affect property values and add too much traffic.
Mike Buckley of 22 Highland Ave. said at a recent meeting of the Planning Board that an apartment complex of this size would not suit the neighborhood.
“We want Floyd School to be cleaned up,” he said, “but this would drastically change the character of the area.”
Elizabeth McGowan of 40 Highland Ave. said she and other neighbors are very invested in the community and its landscape. She worries about what apartments would do to the area.
“The noise, the light, it’s going to be intrusive,” she said. “I just don’t want it to be a transient neighborhood.”
The Floyd School was built in 1917 and has been closed since 2005. The Derry School District sold the building in 2010 for $275,000.
Owner Extended Realty LLC wants to convert the school to a 20-unit complex of studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments. The building would be updated to meet safety requirements. There are 47 parking spaces proposed for the apartments.
Other apartment conversion for the Floyd School have been considered over the years, including an 18-unit plan that received approval. None was ever built.
A part-owner of Extended Realty is Eric Spofford, who also owns the Granite House sober living facility on West Broadway in Derry. Although some neighbors believed Spofford may want to extend his sober living program into the Floyd School plan, Spofford said he has no interest in doing that.
“This is not part of that,” Spofford said. “This is a separate entity, a separate project with no ties to the Granite House.”
The project’s architect told the Planning Board that the parking area would be paved and the main entrance to the building would be on the side of the building, not the school’s current entrance on Highland Avenue.
The board will further consider the project at subsequent meetings.
It is difficult to imagine what neighbors fear in the prospect of apartments being built next door. The residential character of the neighborhood would be maintained. Apartments are among the least bad options for the site.
In any case, the owners have a right to do what they will with their property, within the constraints of applicable laws and regulations.
Highland Avenue residents should get used to the idea that, assuming that market conditions warrant going ahead with such a project, they may soon have new neighbors on their street.