Melmark New England, a school for children with autism and other brain disorders, is planning to expand its campus and work with a developer to build senior housing on property adjacent to its River Road campus.
Rumors of a development plan by Melmark had been circulating for weeks after the May Town Meeting approved a senior zoning overlay district for about 113 acres of land along River Road that includes the 70-acre Franciscan Center next door to Melmark.
Melmark vice president Peter Troy confirmed Melmark’s plans to The Townsman during a selectman’s meeting Monday night held to discuss a sewer hookup the school needs so it can build a kitchen at its 461 River Road complex.
“We want to build residential homes for students that need 24-hour services,” Troy said. “We are looking at three houses with eight children in each house.”
Currently, the school has six residential facilities in Peabody, Methuen, Dracut and Tewksbury. “We would like to bring some of those residences onto the (Andover) grounds,” Troy said.
In addition, the school hopes to partner with a senior living developer to determine what to do with the cavernous, historic Franciscan center, which was built in 1930 as a training center and later used as a retreat house for the Franciscans. The property is now vacant.
“We want to speak with a developer to weigh our needs along with their needs,” he said. “It would be up to the developer whether to renovate or develop something new on the site of the center.”
Melmark has an agreement to purchase the 70-acre site from the Society of Friars of the Orders of St. Francis. According to town records, the land is assessed at almost $5 million and the building at about $2 million.
Troy would not reveal the negotiated price.
The deal was made possible following Town Meeting approval in May of a zoning bylaw that created a Senior Residential Community Overlay District along River Road. The nine-page bylaw encompasses land that more or less surrounds Melmark School. The district is bordered on River Road and includes about 113 acres.