Loring plans to demolish condemned buildings at housing complex

1 month ago

LIMESTONE, Maine — Six blighted, 1970s apartment buildings at the former Loring Air Force Base are slated for demolition within the next year thanks to federal funds and local desire to modernize the neighborhood.

Last summer, Limestone elected officials urged Loring Development Authority, which owns and oversees most of the former base, to condemn the six buildings on Manser Drive, most of which have uncovered foundations, broken windows and aging structures. After formally condemning the buildings this year, Loring leaders said that they have turned their sights to demolition and the eventual creation of new housing.

New housing will come at a vital time for the Loring Commerce Center, created after the Air Force base closed in 1994. The development authority and private developers Green 4 Maine have been actively recruiting companies within aerospace, aviation and agriculture, including local entrepreneurs who will build a $55 million potato chip processing plant

“These [new apartment buildings] will be traditional multi-family units similar to what we have now but we are open to exploring how to use green energy utilities,” said Jonathan Judkins, Loring Development Authority’s interim president and CEO. “We certainly hope that Loring’s new workforce will take advantage of the housing but it’s open to anyone.”

The Manser Drive complex was built in 1977 to house service members and their families during Loring’s Air Force years. 

In 2021, Loring Development Authority received $3.1 million in congressional funds to repair roads, turn four-lane roads into two-lane roads and demolish buildings. The authority will use part of those funds to demolish apartment buildings at 10, 18, 25, 30, 31 and 45 Manser Drive and rid the neighborhood of its excessive potholes.

None of the buildings to be demolished currently have tenants, Judkins said. 

LIMESTONE, Maine — April 17, 2024 — This vacant building at 10 Manser Drive is one of six unoccupied and blighted apartment buildings that Loring Development Authority plans to demolish. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

Two apartment buildings on Manser Drive were previously demolished and the authority hopes to eventually construct new buildings there to meet workforce and housing needs. So far the authority does not have a timeline for constructing the new housing units.

Eleven other buildings in the neighborhood will remain standing but will be repaired in order to modernize the properties, Judkins said. He did not specify what repairs might be needed or when they might be completed.

“As far as I’m concerned, any building that still has a foundation can be rehabbed with the right amount of investment,” Judkins said. “We want to improve living conditions [on Manser Drive] at a time when we have a housing shortage across the state.”

Jasmine King lives in one of the still occupied buildings with her four children and said she does not let the children play outside alone because of the dangerous buildings. She said that she and other tenants had just learned of Loring Development Authority’s plans to tear down the vacant buildings.

“If they tear [the buildings] down, it would be nice to put in a park for the kids to enjoy,” King said.

The building scheduled for demolition at 45 Manser Drive burned in a fire in 2022 and was the main subject of complaints from Limestone Select Board members, who pointed out that the front door of one apartment unit had not been boarded up to prevent trespassers from entering and potentially getting hurt.

LIMESTONE, Maine — April 17, 2024 — A burned and vacant apartment building at 45 Manser Drive on the Loring Commerce Center campus has an open door despite being barricaded and boasting a “no trespass” sign. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

On Wednesday, that front door was still open but other buildings slated for demolition appeared boarded up. Judkins said that Loring Development Authority’s contracted code enforcement officer, George Howe, inspected the properties earlier this year and completed paperwork to formally condemn the buildings.

“We worked with the code enforcement officer to secure any building that could be secured and were deemed unsafe,” Judkins said.

Caribou-based County Environmental Engineering is overseeing an environmental review of the Manser Drive properties, which the federal government requires before demolition to ensure that no harmful chemicals are present within soils, surface water, groundwater and sediment, Judkins stated.

The environmental review will confirm whether per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are present on Manser Drive.

Since 2015, the Air Force has been investigating the extent to which a PFAS chemical called aqueous film forming foams, or AFFF, may have spread during firefighter training or plane crashes near the airport runway when Loring was an active base. The Air Force narrowed its search to 21 waterways, soils and sediment sites starting in 2022 and has not yet released data from its most recent studies.

Manser Drive is not part of the Air Force’s current study but County Environmental will confirm whether dangerous levels of chemicals are present. The Air Force continually tests drinking water to ensure safety, Judkins said.

If the environmental review does not reveal concerns, Loring Development Authority will put out requests for proposals for demolition and aim to choose a contractor by fall, Judkins said. 

Loring Development Authority is also looking for a new landlord to manage the properties at Manser Drive.

In 2001, the authority sold the housing complex to Limestone Country Club, which returned the property in 2013 in lieu of foreclosure. 

Inland Winds Housing has been managing the Manser Drive properties but owners Will and Gerry St. Peter will soon step down, Judkins said.

Lynn Fortin has lived at Manser Drive for the past 10 years, directly across from the Inland Winds Housing office. Fortin said that the ceiling in one of her bedrooms has mold but the property managers are never in the office and have not taken action to remove it.

“I never got a letter from them [saying that they’re leaving],” Fortin said.

Multiple attempts to reach Inland Winds Housing for comment were unsuccessful.

Loring Development Authority has put out a request for proposals for a new property management service to collect rent, pay for utilities and maintain the grounds, according to an advertisement in the Aroostook Republican. RFPs are due May 17.

The change in management will not affect the demolition schedule but Judkins said that Loring Development Authority and the new property managers will evaluate the subsidized and unsubsidized monthly rents and work with tenants to ensure they can stay on Manser Drive.