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Old Brandon High School auctioned

BRANDON — The old Brandon High School got another chance at life late last month when new owners snapped up the 96-year-old building for a paltry $20,000.
Sunny skies and warm temperatures greeted the roughly 20 people who attended the June 28 bank foreclosure auction on West Seminary Street, handled by Thomas Hirchak Company. Curious local residents outnumbered potential bidders 10 to one as the bidding got under way following a one-hour registration and inspection period of the gutted, three-story brick building.
In the end, Stephen Byers of Shelburne won the building with a winning bid of $20,000, two bids up from the $15,000 opening amount. He is the now the proud owner of the 13,500-square-foot, neoclassical-style brick building on 2.14 acres on two downtown lots containing 400 feet of frontage on the Neshobe River. The building is currently assessed at $227,000.
Auctioneer Tom Hirchak began the auction by stating that mortgage holder Lake Sunapee Bank was not interested in owning the property.
“Our lender does not want to own it, so hopefully one of you will go home with a fabulous property in downtown Brandon,” Hirchak said.
Built in 1916 on the former site of a seminary, the building served as the town high school until Otter Valley Union High School was built in 1961. The local elementary school burned down in 1959, so students and teachers moved their classes into local parishes and the Ayrshire Building on Carver and Union streets until Otter Valley was completed, then the old high school building became the elementary school. Primary school classes were taught there until the early 1980s when they moved to Forest Dale and became the Neshobe School.
The town twice considered buying the old high school to use it for town office space, but both times decided against it. In the wake of the devastating flood that closed the town offices last August and with the town facing a major renovation of that building, many residents wondered why the town chose not to bid on the old high school building just up the street. At the June 25 regular selectboard meeting, board chair Devon Fuller said the town was unable to bid because adequate public notice of the town’s interest had not been posted before the auction.
Once the Neshobe School opened, the old high school building sat empty for over 20 years until 2006 when developer Frank Briscoe bought the building from two friends who originally purchased the school in 2000 with the intention of transforming it into artists’ studios. After a few years working to clean up and stabilize the structure, they decided to pursue other projects and sold the building to Briscoe.
Briscoe then developed plans to turn the old school into 12 condominiums called Neshobe Lofts. Using salvaged materials from the original building and incorporating enough environmentally sound energy perks, he had hoped to earn it a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold certification. Radiant floor heating was planned for some units and reuse of the school’s original radiators in others. The building was to feature solar panels on the roof and every unit was to boast energy-efficient fixtures and appliances
Briscoe, who had been involved in historic renovation for over 15 years, vowed to keep much of the old building intact, especially the facade and the windows.
The project was expected to cost about $2.75 million, including the $120,000 Briscoe paid for the building. In September 2007, Briscoe estimated the project would be ready for occupancy in July 2008. The mostly two-bedroom units were expected to fetch between $200,000 and $350,000 and the gymnasium was to be converted into an indoor parking lot.
But the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis was already underway in September 2007 and within a year, a global financial meltdown had taken over international markets. The real estate market tanked and selling condominiums was not the business to be in.
Briscoe appeared before the Brandon Development Review Board in April 2007 to apply for an extension on his permits, but no construction in the old school ever took place. By April 2010, the building was up for tax sale but was not sold. Foreclosure proceedings began last year, leading up to the June 28 auction.
Once the $5,500 in back taxes and $1,035 in past water and sewer charges are paid, new owner Stephen Breyer will own the building free and clear. What he will do with it is unknown, as he was mum on his plans following the auction. However, he did request Briscoe’s plans and was obviously pleased with his purchase once the paperwork was signed.
“Well, this is very exciting, isn’t it?!” he said.

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