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November 29, 2018

Fitchburg school-to-apartments conversion tops off

Image/Courtesy A rendering of the former B.F. Brown School in Fitchburg, which is being converted into artists' residences.

A renovation of the former B.F. Brown School in Fitchburg into apartments has hit its ceremonial topping-off point, when construction reaches its physical peak.

A ceremony held at the school Wednesday was a chance for officials and development partners to mark the latest stage in what is seen as a revitalization of the city's downtown.

The long-vacant school on Academy Street is being turned into 50 to 60 residential units. Just down the street, Fitchburg State University is turning a former theater and storefronts on Main Street into a learning and entrepreneurship center. City Hall is undergoing a renovation to enable city employees to return to the building and, in the hopes of city officials, bring a vitality to the neighborhood with them.

In July, Fitchburg Mayor Stephen DiNatale approved a $5,000 sale of the B.F. Brown School to NewVue Communities, a Fitchburg nonprofit. The transaction included $1.6 million the city received in an insurance settlement after a fire in the building.

NewVue, a nonprofit that assists businesses and owns affordable housing, has said it envisions artists living and working in the former school.

NewVue is a partner with Fitchburg State on the Theater Block redevelopment on Main Street. That project is ultimately envisioned to bring back to life the building's 25,000 square-foot theater and its retail storefronts.

City Hall sits directly across Main Street from the Theater Block but has been closed since 2012 when a support truss in the roof was deemed a structural hazard. It is being redeveloped in a $23.5-million project.

City Hall workers have been temporarily relocated a few blocks away to a building on Boulder Drive.

ICON Architecture, a Boston firm, is a partner in all three projects. The firm has been working with the Fitchburg Art Museum, which is located across the street from the B.F. Brown School, on the design of interior work spaces and amenities for the three buildings.

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