Dozens of residential units considered for old industrial building in Keene

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Jun. 16—CONCORD — The N.H. Executive Council approved a $300,000 grant Wednesday for an energy-efficient biomass boiler system as part of a project to add dozens of housing units to a 75-year-old building in Keene.

Designers are looking at constructing up to three additional floors with 50 to 60 condominiums or apartments, on top of what is now a two-story building, said architect and developer Randall Walter of Westmoreland.

Walter is the manager of a limited liability company called 310 Marlboro St., which owns the nearly 80,000-square-foot building at that address.

The N.H. Department of Energy grant would cover some of the costs of an $847,130 boiler that would provide heat by burning dried chips created from local waste wood.

Keene-based Froling Energy would install the Swiss-made boiler and supply the chips. The boiler, which would also be capable of burning wood pellets, is designed to produce low air emissions and minimal generation of ash.

Built as a paintbrush factory, the brick-clad building has steel supports, giving it good structural capacity for expansion, Walter said. Current occupants are commercial tenants involved in accounting, architecture, athletics and baking, among other things. The building also houses Making Community Connections charter school.

The renovation is intended to yield a heavily insulated building that would produce enough renewable energy, including solar generation, to meet its power demands.

Plans call for the boiler and heat pumps to keep the building warm, replacing the current system of oil and propane heat.

The idea is also to create a fun place to live.

"You could see how the uses that exist in the base building could be highly desirable to residents upstairs," Walter said. "We're hoping to develop a live-work community."

A resident could, for example, go downstairs to exercise at an athletic facility, get a fresh pastry or work in an office without ever having to leave the building.

The building is adjacent to the Cheshire Rail Trail and is about a 10-minute walk to Keene State College and the downtown area.

Scarcity of available housing, the need for environmentally friendly construction and high energy costs provide good rationale for this urban-living concept, Walter said, adding that plans should be filed in August for city approval.

The project also fits in with Walter's goals as an architect.

"For many years, a focus of my work has been on the environment, better buildings and now renewable energy in existing structures," he said.

"This one is particularly exciting because of the challenge. These are not easy milestones to get buildings to net-zero, especially older ones and to basically reinvent the energy sources in a rural community. It takes a lot of creativity, a lot of meetings, working with a lot of local contractors to figure out what's the right recipe to create a place like this."

Net-zero refers to no net release of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

Walters said the building is in an area along Marlboro Street that city officials have designated as a business growth and reuse zone to encourage redevelopment.

"In a lot of ways, they envisioned projects like this in that zone, and so we're really hoping to bring that to reality and figure out a way to make it happen," he said.

The property is in a business growth and reuse zone, according to the Senior City Planner Mari Brunner. This district is intended to provide "opportunities for redevelopment and revitalization of a former industrial area in an environmentally sensitive manner that is of a scale and type compatible with adjacent residential neighborhoods," Brunner said.

Multifamily residences are already allowed in the business growth and reuse zone, Brunner said Friday morning. This is separate from a proposed amendment to city housing codes, which would allow for residential units above commercial buildings in the commerce districts near downtown, that the City Council advanced during a public hearing Thursday night.

The property is in a business growth and reuse zone, according to the Senior City Planner Mari Brunner. This district is intended to provide "opportunities for redevelopment and revitalization of a former industrial area in an environmentally sensitive manner that is of a scale and type compatible with adjacent residential neighborhoods," Brunner said.

Multifamily residences are already allowed in the business growth and reuse zone, Brunner said. This is separate from a proposed amendment to city housing codes, which would allow for residential units above commercial buildings in the commerce districts near downtown, that the City Council advanced during a public hearing Thursday night.

His company bought the 310 Marlboro St. property from RK Parisi Enterprises Inc. for $2.9 million last July, according to city property records.

No determination has been made yet on whether the residential units would be market rate or whether there would be a low-income provision.

This story has been updated with additional information Senior City Planner Mari Brunner.

Rick Green can be reached at RGreen@KeeneSentinel.com or 603-355-8567