Valley News – A new use for Orford school: an Academy building to house seniors


Orford – Almost 15 years after the end of classes in the old Orford Academy building, the historic structure takes one more step towards a new life, this time in the service of the elderly.

The city’s selection committee voted, 2-1, on Wednesday to sponsor a $ 500,000 federal community development grant for renovations to the three-story building, opening the door to new uses.

Education and Affordable Housing Development in Littleton, NH, NH, or AHEAD, hopes to transform the old academy into housing, replacing classrooms with around 10 apartments and community space.

But before work can begin, the association is seeking federal funds to ease an expected construction cost of $ 3.5 million.

Municipalities can only apply for CDBG grants, which means AHEAD and the Rivendell Interstate School District, which owns the building, needed the support of Selectboard to move forward. And it took a controversial 2.5 hour meeting before we got it.

Of the nearly 30 people who attended Monday’s hearing, many said they supported the project, saying it would save the school district money. An expensive renovation would be paid for by grants and AHEAD, rather than taxpayers, they said.

“We have to keep paying for this building no matter what we do, so our goal is to put this (building) to good use that is in line with our educational mission and is self-financing,” said Katherine Blanchard, school board member. who lives in Orford.

But several others feared the federal requirements for the project would be unfair to residents of Orford. The grant does not allow AHEAD to discriminate based on a person’s residence, meaning people living in surrounding communities could be selected to live in the renovated building before longtime residents of the city.

Some even wondered if those looking for accommodation should live in a complex a few hundred yards from the Rivendell Academy.

Jim McGoff, chairman of the city’s planning council, said anti-discrimination policies would also prohibit AHEAD from preventing older people with mental and physical disabilities from moving in. He compared the proposed project to Glencliff House, a state-run facility in Glencliff, N.Y. that cares for the mentally handicapped and the mentally ill in New Hampshire.

“Do we want something like this next to our school?” ” He asked.

The comment drew condemnation from some in the crowd, who pointed out that the school itself cannot discriminate against these groups.

Michael Claflin, executive director of AHEAD, said all residents of the non-profit organization’s 400 housing units across the north of the country receive a background check before moving in. The non-profit organization also guarantees their income to ensure that they can afford rent.

“The Academy building is a very beautiful part of our city,” said Judith Parker, an Orford resident for 45 years.

Parker pointed to the building’s walking distance to nearby stores, schools and restaurants as advantages for senior housing. The project would also allow older people to age in their community rather than having to move to a bigger city, she said.

“It looks like this is a great opportunity for us,” Parker said.

The academy has long been a beloved municipal building, dating back to 1850 when the Orford Academy Association purchased 2 acres of land just east of Orford Street, also known as Route 10 .

The three-story Federal-style building was completed in 1851 and opened to nine teachers and a class of 167 pupils, including 94 boys and 73 girls, according to a story compiled by Orford historian Carl Schmidt.

The private academy welcomed students from both sides of the Connecticut River and even some from Massachusetts. In 1852, 12 boarders came from Bay State to Orford, according to Schmidt.

But in 1865, the operations of the Orford Academy were suspended, probably due to the decline of rural populations. Several attempts to restart the school failed and it officially closed in 1871.

Classes returned after the building was sold to the city in 1898. It then served as a two-room high school until 1926, when Orford High School was established on the building’s first floor.

A two-story wood-frame addition was added to the academy in 1937, according to Schmidt. The subsequent acquisition of 20 acres in 1958 also allowed the construction of a gymnasium, cafeteria and classroom.

Orford High School continued until 2000, when the Rivendell Interstate School District was formed, and classes continued in the building until 2002. Since then, the building has remained unused, aside from storage uses. .

The idea of ​​renovating the old Orford Academy has been in the works for more than a decade, starting in 2005, when a working group was formed to find new uses for the building.

Over the years, he has explored transforming the building into a health clinic, office space or workforce training center, said Anne Duncan Cooley, group president.

“We’ve been really looking for viable use for a while,” said Duncan Cooley.

But whenever the group has an idea, the funding could not be found.

This was the case until members contacted AHEAD two years ago, Duncan Cooley said. The non-profit organization is well known for its subsidized and affordable housing projects in the northern counties of Grafton and Coos.

At the time, they were completing renovations on a historic school building in Berlin, New Hampshire, and had experience with several historic brick buildings, Duncan Cooley said.

“Their experience seemed very appropriate for this type of project,” she said. “We haven’t seen anything like it in Orford. It’s a big deal in town. It is a very visible part of our community.

In the end, Orford Selectboard members John Adams and Paul Goundrey voted in favor of the request for the $ 500,000 federal grant, while David Smith voted no.

The Selectboard decision Wednesday night allows the task force and AHEAD to apply for the grant, but only after an initial review by the city attorney.

Several flanking plans that the board approved to qualify for the grant were challenged by planning board members, who said these approvals were within their purview. Thus, the Selectboard compromised and conditionally approved the documents while the city waits for a review.

Tim Camerato can be contacted at or 603-727-3223.


Orford Selectboard members John Adams and Paul Goundrey voted in favor of a request for a federal grant of $ 500,000 to renovate the Orford Academy building into a retirement home, while David Smith voted no . An earlier version of this story inadvertently omitted how each selectman voted.


Comments are closed.