Lewiston’s SHAREcenter searches for a permanent home with more space
LEWISTON — Since the former Martel Elementary School on Lisbon Street closed in 2019, Lisa Rodrigues has been an unofficial caretaker of the property.
As the only employee of the SHAREcenter, an organization that collects and repurposes supplies for schools and other programs, Rodrigues is constantly at the building. If there’s a leaky pipe or other issue, she’s often the first to catch it.
The organization has been a month-to-month tenant at the city’s building, and has been growing its reach in the community, but its time at Martel is coming to an end.
Avesta Housing is slated to turn the former school into 44 units of senior housing, so the center is searching for a permanent home. But, according to Rodrigues, the need for the organization has never been more apparent.
With the school year starting, Rodrigues said it’s the busiest time of the year for the SHAREcenter, especially this year.
Since it was founded by the Auburn School Department in the late 1990s, the center has bounced around from place to place. On Tuesday, Rodrigues was moving items out of a space at the Bates Mill complex that the center had been using as temporary storage.
She was moving it all to Martel, where by 2 p.m., a full roster of members would be browsing the goods, readying for classes. SHAREcenter uses an online scheduling app that allows teachers and other nonprofit staff to choose times to shop. On Tuesday, every slot was full.
“We’re rescuing. That’s what we do,” she said, referring to the products that the organization repurposes. Most of the material moved Tuesday was paper, bags and backpacks.
They also receive large items such as furniture and shelving. Last year, the organization purchased a box truck. On the side is a decal for the SHAREcenter that says “rescuing reusable resources.”
The program first began at Great Falls Elementary School in Auburn, and since it’s had temporary homes at the East Auburn Community School, storage units in Turner and eventually to Martel. The organization is self-funded but is still tied to the Auburn School Department.
“We’re always on edge and never know if we’re going to be evicted, which is not a good feeling,” Rodrigues said. “Especially when you’re doing so much good.”
Rodrigues said SHAREcenter has been in talks with the Lewiston nonprofit Community Concepts about a potential partnership that could allow it to restructure itself into an official 501(c)(3) organization, as well as open up possible avenues for physical space.
Shawn Yardley, CEO of Community Concepts, confirmed Tuesday that the nonprofit is in talks with the SHAREcenter about a potential partnership. He said there have been discussions about “a possible role for (Community Concepts) in supporting this valuable community resource.”
While the Avesta project is moving ahead, the SHAREcenter may have a little extra time there.
According to Lincoln Jeffers, Lewiston’s director of economic and community development, Avesta was successful earlier this year in acquiring federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, but due to the increased cost of construction, the credits were not enough to move forward with the project.
“Avesta is pursuing additional financing with hopes of starting construction in the summer/fall of 2022,” Jeffers said in an email.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, construction was slated to begin this fall.
“In the interim, I’m hoping the city and Avesta will allow us to stay and continue to rescue material and get it out to our members for at least another year,” Rodrigues said. “A year is a lot of time, but it really isn’t a lot of time.”
In early 2020, the city considered three proposals for purchasing the former school, including from Avesta. The SHAREcenter also made an offer, which sought more time to use the building as its home while exploring the potential for reworking the school into a community center with offices and dance and yoga classes.
The City Council ultimately went with senior housing.
Jeffers said as part of the SHAREcenter’s lease with the city, it pays insurance on the building and the cost of snow removal if any is needed beyond that for emergency vehicle access. In exchange for use of the building, the city receives a standard membership to the SHAREcenter program.
Rodrigues said her biggest concern is finding a viable property in the Twin Cities, especially as real estate prices continue to rise. She said as more people look to the SHAREcenter as a viable way to reuse goods, she’s receiving larger and larger donations. That means they’re looking for a larger space.
“We’re ready to have a home of our own,” she said.