CAMDEN — A Boston-based real estate developer who has ties to – and investments in – the Midcoast, has stepped forward with a 12-page proposal to repurpose the Mary E. Taylor School on Knowlton Street in Camden.
The proposal, submitted by Michael Mullins, president of Mullins Management, Inc., was emailed Nov. 30 to School Administrative District 28 Board Chairman Matt Dailey and Superintendent Maria Libby Nov. 30. That day was the deadline the school board had set for receiving proposals to keep MET from the wrecking ball.
“I am overjoyed we got one, and even another one,” said Dailey, Dec. 1. “If we move forward let’s make sure it’s as strong as possible.”
Dailey said another proposal had also been floated; however, it was not as firm as the one Mullin had submitted and he declined to specify its origin as a courtesy to the principals who might yet not want to be named. That second proposal may have life left in it, he indicated.
Mullins envisions an adaptive reuse of the 1925-brick-built MET for educational and mix-used purposes. According to Architectural Daily, “After built structures become disused or abandoned, adaptive reuse can be the perfect way to breathe new life into an old building, while conserving resources and historic value.”
Mullins’ proposal includes using MET classrooms as they are laid out, while dedicating 4,000 square feet to shared office and presentation space, conference areas and a pop-up cafe. Plans also call for creating a gallery, welcome center and library.
He anticipates investing $780,000 in the project, and calls it a rehabilitation and preservation development.
Mullins is hoping to meet with the School Administrative 28 School board and explain his ideas. (See attached PDF for the complete proposal)
“I’d like to make a presentation,” he said. “I think it would be helpful for the school board and others in town.”
The future of the MET building has been debated in the Camden-Rockport community since the two towns voted in June to build a new $26 million middle school on the existing Camden-Rockport Middle School campus on Knowlton Street. The project entails demolishing the entire existing complex of buildings, including MET. Since last spring, community members have disputed the goal of tearing down MET, and in July, the school board agreed to entertain proposals to keep the building standing.
Massachusetts developer with Maine ties
Michael Mullins is president of Mullins Management, whose offices are in Boston.
Mullins Management is a real estate development, management and investment firm with annual revenues of $11 million.
His recent projects have included apartment complexes, mixed-use developments, and commercial real estate developments. Mullins Management has focused on redevelopment of Lowell, Mass., mill properties, converting old factories to living spaces.
He cofounded Paradise Cable, a broadband subsidiary.
In Midcoast Maine, he owns Cranesport LLC, which operates Cranesport Garage in the former MBNA garage on Mount Battie Street in Camden.
He also runs a small coworking space in Boston.
And, he worked extensively in 2016 on an old quarry abutting his personal residential real estate in Rockland, draining it, rebuilding some walls, and refilling it.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Miami, a master’s degree from the MIT Center for Real Estate and an master’s in business administration from the University of Chicago.
He has an interest in technology startups, and organizes classes in Boston for entrepreneurs.
Mullins said his mother was from Maine, the Skowhegan and Waterville area, and he has been visiting Maine, and its coastline, all his life.
In his proposal, Mullins said he would operate the renovated MET as Camden Workplace L3C, a low-profit limited liability company, and its use would be “a makerspace and coworking facility whose mission is to promote lateral learning, sustainability, entrepreneurship and the expansion of hands-on skills for all age groups through a variety of programs.”
Lateral learning, as defined in the proposal, is peer-to-peer instruction, “as well as the cross-pollination of ideas that occurs when various disciplines meet and are combined. From the standpoint of the school district, lateral learning in this hands-on setting is a natural compliment to the theoretical classroom learning....”
Camden Workplace’s revenue would derive from memberships pegged at different costs, from $20 to $250 a month. Mullins anticipates employing one to five people, and recruiting volunteers to provide safety training and oversight.
According to the proposal, which has also been sent to Camden Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell, the space would incorporate metalworking, woodworking and room for elementary school students to “learn confidence with tools and working with materials, including right-sized workbenches, tools and materials.”
Proposed classes include fundamentals of metalworking, woodworking, computer science, electrical engineering, solar power, robotics, entrepreneurship modules of business and financial models, fundraising.
The proposal outlines a Repair Cafe, which would be a volunteer-run program, “in which any community members with an interest in sustainability and moving away from ‘throw-away’ consumption can bring their home goods, small equipment, or electronics, and learn how to diagnose and restore them to working order with the help fo volunteer experts.”
Mullins is offering to purchase MET from the school district for $100,000, but leave ownership of the land under the school board.
The “shell” of MET would belong to Camden Workplace L3C.
Mullins recently toured the building with SAD 28 Facilities Director Keith Rose.
“The building appears to be sound,” he said.
He also discussed the building’s potential with Camden Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell last week.
The $100,000 to the district would be paid in cash, escrowed in advance of the start of the new middle school construction, or other negotiated terms, he said in the proposal.
The building’s purchase would occur when the existing school is razed, in particular, the wing that connects MET to the cafeteria.
Mullins proposes leasing parking space for $1,000 per year from the district, with an option to purchase 1.5 acres to the rear of the building.
Camden Workplace would be formed as a low-profit limited liability corporation, and would register as a Maine corporation.
The L3C status, according to Mullins, stipulates that the business furthers the accomplishment of one or more charitable or educational purposes and does not have a significant purpose of producing income or appreciating property, although both are allowed.
“The stated intent of setting up this L3C with low or limited profit is intended to allow the entity to raise private capital to accomplish its mission, while earning a return that exceeds inflation, and is less than or equal to 7 percent return on equity for any given operating period,” Mullins wrote in his proposal. “The target return will be 3 to 5 percent. The investment thesis of this approach is that civic and educational minded individuals might invest capital in this project at a return that exceeds that of a typical savings instrument, while helping to building community, in addition to capital contributed by the founder(s).”
Mullins said he first became interested in MET after a friend had tagged him approximately one month ago in a Facebook conversation concerning the fate of the old building.
He said he investigated the possibilities, and assembled his proposal.
“I’m familiar with Camden, and there is a lot good entrepreneurial energy there,” he said.
To date, Mullins has not spoken to anyone on the school board, but looks forward to the conversation.
School Board Chairman Matt Dailey said Dec. 1 that he and Superintendent Maria Libby, and perhaps “other board leadership” will evaluate Mullins’ proposal before presenting it the the full school board, which meets Dec. 20.
"We need to make sure before bringing it to the public that Mr Mullins has a chance to revise his proposal to fix anything technically or legally incomplete,” he said. “School law is complex."
That vetting process may include calling on consultants, he said.
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