‘I want it to be efficient, but at the same time, affordable’

Belfast man proposes former Crosby School transformation: co-housing, office and performance space

Posted:  Tuesday, February 7, 2017 - 10:45am

BELFAST—The former Crosby High School on 96 Church Street in Belfast is one of those residential monoliths one might pass by for 20 years and forget it’s there. But this past December, Belfast resident Kiril Lozanov, purchased the 38,000-square-foot building with big plans to renovate it into a community building that promises huge potential for Belfast’s creative economy.

Built in 1923, the William G. Crosby School was featured in the 1957 movie, Peyton Place and remained a school until 1993, when it was purchased by the National Theatre Workshop for the Handicapped, a nonprofit that spent $3.5 million to renovate it. After several years in disrepair, the Workshop put the school on the market in 2013.

After several unsuccessful attempts to sell, then auction, the building off, Lozanov decided to take a look at its potential.

“I’d heard a lot about this school and I knew I had to see it for myself,” he said. “So, it took three hours to walk through all of the spaces and by the end, I said, ‘I’m getting this.’”

Lozanov plans to converts the top floor of 14 residential rooms into long-term co-housing, the second floor for shared office space and “office and residential pods” as well as dance space. The first floor, with its enormous theater, will be used for public performances and its commercial kitchen for a public restaurant.

The residential areas on the third floor, renovated by the Workshop, are all handicap-accessible with the majority of rooms sharing a common bathroom area.

The set up is ideal for families and single people of all ages and backgrounds, but because of potential allergies, pets cannot be allowed.

There’s one integrated apartment with its own bathroom, which Lozanov said would be ideal for one family. He, himself, will occupy one of the shared rooms and share it with his kids. The school also houses a working elevator, but Lozanov is not sure if they will be needed.

The building is naturally suited for multi-use purposes. Lozanov envisions the office pods on the second floor will be based on the hostel concept of shared open living space within one room among digital nomads. Each partitioned-off pod would have a bed and a desk.

“I want it to be efficient, but at the same time, affordable,” said Lozanov. All residents and office pod residents would have access to shared bathrooms and a shared kitchen on the third floor.

“Everybody will share in the cooking, which will save everyone an enormous amount of time and resources.”

All space will be rentable, not owner-occupied.

Lozanov said the roof needs extensive repairs, along with the boiler system and sprinkler system. Because of water damage from the roof, many of the interior walls and ceiling have mold issues and will need to be reconstructed. He’s looking into grants to help alleviate some of these costs and hopes work will be completed within five years.

The real jewel of The Crosby School is the gigantic theater with its original wooden seats, balcony and enormous wooden stage.

“This would be for concerts, for music, for performances, poetry, dancing, anything you can think of. I want it to be used for everybody who needs a space like this in the community.”

Behind the stage are dressing rooms for both men and women, as well as a fully equipped backstage with a moveable stage, so that theater troupes can perform outdoor shows on the school’s property.

“Community living is important for everyone,” he said.

A Bulgarian native, he moved to the United States in 1998. As a resident of the Belfast Co-housing and Ecovillage, he knows first hand its benefits.

“It’s an element that has been missing in today’s society. In the old days, that’s all there was. When I go back to Bulgaria, I always joke with my mother who lives about a 10-minute walk away from the store, that it takes an hour, because she stops and talks with everyone. You get to know people and feel like you’re part of something.”

The restaurant concept is another way to gather people in the community to socialize. He hasn’t yet contracted a chef or restaurant yet, but he wants the food to be locally sourced.

Penobscot Bay Pilot will follow up with this story when more progress on the building has been completed.

Kay Stephens can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com