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Former Farnum Center in Manchester eyed for 88-bed rooming house

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 02. 2013 10:54PM

MANCHESTER - The former Farnum Center would be converted into an 88-bed rooming house under a proposal that goes before city regulators next week.

Gordon Welch, an area real estate developer and property manager, said he expects to spend as much as $700,000 to upgrade the four-story, 120-year-old brick structure at the corner of Union and Hanover streets.

For the last three decades, it has housed the Farnum Center, a 59-room residential treatment facility for drug and alcohol abusers. The Farnum Center plans to open its new, Queen City Avenue location on Saturday.

Welch said the reuse fits the history of the building, which initially was built for nurses who worked at the nearby Sacred Heart Hospital.

Plans are for about 20 single-occupancy rooms on each floor, along with a communual kitchen, living area, baths and laundry. The ratio works out to about one bathroom for every four rooms, he said.

Welch said his partner, Jeff Noury, operates a similar establishment - the Rice-Hamilton Hotel in Manchester - and market rates at rooming houses range from $100 to $150 a week.

"This is going to be non-subsidized housing. People that are working is the demographic we're looking for," he said.

Welch and Noury need a special exception for the project to move forward, and they are scheduled to bring their case to the Manchester Zoning Board of Adjustment on May 9.

It's not easy to get a good handle on the number of rooming houses in the city, said David Albin, supervisor of code enforcement for the city.

Off the top of his head, Albin ticked off at least 12 rooming houses, most located in the core of the city. He said some - such as Rice-Hamilton and the Cadillac Motel - are classified as hotels because they are in a business zone, where residences are not allowed. Rooming houses are found in residential zones. Basically, they are the same thing, Albin said.

"They meet minimum housing codes and are inspected every three, three-and-a-half years. They cater to a transient clientele," Albin said.

Welch and Noury plan to remove a large, first-floor kitchen and cafeteria area in order to create rooms. Each floor will have a kitchenette that includes microwave ovens.

The current entrance will be used for an emergency exit, a solid fence alongside Hanover Street will be removed, and a handicapped ramp will be placed in the courtyard. The courtyard entrance to the building will be the main entrance.

A sprinkler system will be placed throughout the building, allowing use of the fourth floor for rooms. There are no plans for an elevator.

The company will rent fully-furnished rooms, and a manager will be on site around the clock, Welch said.

He said he hopes to close on the deal in June, and the upgrades will take four to six months.

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