October 31, 2018

Voke Lofts developer gets initial city approval for $20M Lincoln Square autism school

Photo | Grant Welker
The former Lincoln Square Boys Club building could be redeveloped for use as a school for children with autism.

A $20-million renovation effort to essentially save the former Lincoln Square Boy's Club from the wrecking ball cleared another Worcester hurdle Tuesday, getting approval from the City Council's Standing Committee on Economic Development.

WinnDevelopment Co. of Boston is planning to spend at least $20 million to convert the vacant 48,000-square-foot building into the new home of Summit Academy, a therapeutic school for students with high-functioning autism and other disabilities. The school will move from its current location on Jamesbury Street.

The full City Council will take a vote on the matter on Nov. 13, but time is of the essence with water damage and other structural issues threatening to derail the building's future use, city officials say.

Chief Development Officer Michael Traynor on Tuesday said the failure of this project to proceed will result in the building's demolition.

"Conditions are pretty dire," he said.

City workers are at the building almost daily to check on the structural integrity of the former Boy's Club and Worcester Vocational High School, Traynor said.

A pump in the basement is routinely run to clear water, he added.

As such, a condition of the proposed $300,000 sale of the building to WinnDevelopment is the approval of a structural analysis of the building.

Traynor highlighted three previous attempts at a comprehensive renovation of the building, including a look from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and Milford-based Consigli Construction in 2012 and 2013, respectively, but those attempts failed.

Since then, Winn has doggedly pursued this current project, Traynor said.

Michael O'Brien, executive vice president of the firm, said nonprofit group Preservation Worcester is working with WinnDevelopment Co. as its historic tax credit partner.

The company will increase its Worcester portfolio with the project, which comes after 50 years of redevelopment work in Worcester. Projects include senior community Coes Pond Village, Wellington Community, the Canal Lofts and Voke Lofts.

If approved by the full council, the sale would close in December and construction would begin in early 2019.

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