“The Crosby School has a long history of benefiting the Belfast community, and many long-term residents have deep ties to the building,” says Lozanov. “I see countless possibilities to use this space to bring cultural events to Belfast, foster learning among community members, and provide much-needed rental housing and office space in the downtown area.”
The Crosby School was constructed in 1923 on the site of a former school and town hall, and the school was in operation until 1993. Then, in 1996, the city of Belfast sold the 36,000-square-foot building to the National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped (NTWH), which spent an estimated $3.5 million on renovations and used the property seasonally. After bustling with activity for several summers, the building then fell into disuse.
“The Crosby School has a long history of being a significant building in Belfast, having been a high school and middle school before being used by NTWH,” says Belfast city planner Wayne Marshall. “Its use started to decline around 2004, and in the last nine years, a lot of ideas have been circulating for possible redevelopment. Now it’s good to see someone stepping forward who lives in Belfast and is willing to give the building life again.”
Lozanov is an engineer and an owner of Capital City Renewables, a firm that installs solar energy systems and meteorological towers and conducts wind-resource assessment campaigns for potential wind farms. He has installed 12 residential solar systems at Belfast Cohousing, where he has resided for the last few years.
Lozanov plans to revitalize the Crosby School in phases over several years and is now looking for heating solutions that do not rely on fuel oil. He has already put in a request to the city for permission to install solar panels as an awning on the south side.
“I plan to restore the building over several years and cover the roof with solar panels,” says Lozanov. “I would like this building to be energy independent and not rely on fossil fuels for heating, cooling, or lighting or for running appliances.”
NTWH had added housing on the third floor of the building, creating 14 bedrooms and 12 bathrooms. In the first phase of the revitalization, Lozanov will offer cooperative rental housing on the third floor with a shared kitchen, dining room, and living room, along with private bedrooms and bathrooms.
Lozanov lived in a family-friendly cooperative house in Madison, Wisconsin, for five years. There, members shared in the cleaning and maintenance of the home and enjoyed several organic, vegetarian meals together each week. He plans to offer a similar furnished living arrangement in Belfast starting in the early spring. Lozanov will use the property both as his residence and as his workspace.
“Our hope is that at least a portion of the building can be used for rental housing because there is a need for that in Belfast,” explains Marshall. “We think having more people living on the edge of downtown will add to the vitality of Belfast.”
The city has shown considerable support for the revitalization of this vacant property. It changed the building’s zoning in 2014 to facilitate multiuse redevelopment and has helped fund studies of the property.
“The city has taken a keen interest in this property and wants it to be successful,” says Belfast economic development director Thomas Kittredge.
The Crosby School, however, had been on the market for years, and Marshall believes this was in part due to the asking price, the size of the structure, and the funds needed to renovate it.
“NTWH did a lot of cleanup work to make it a good, usable structure,” says Marshall. “Unfortunately, it has been unheated for years. There was surface mold in 2010, and NTWH completed some direct remediation work to abate a condition that was starting to redevelop.” A recent environmental assessment of the building in October 2016, which included collecting samples throughout the building, revealed “acceptable ranges for mold growth.”
Lozanov has determined that installing an energy-efficient heating and cooling solution for the building is his top priority. There may be seasonal use of some spaces until the new heating system is installed.
“The Crosby School is now in another bounce-back phase, just as life in Belfast has had to bounce back a few times in the past,” says Marshall.