Affordable housing planned for Briscoe

File photoStudents enter Briscoe School before last year’s closure. The historic building will be redeveloped into affordable senior housing and artist studios under a proposal accepted by the city. 

BEVERLY — The historic Briscoe building where generations of Beverly students attended school will be redeveloped into affordable senior housing and artist studios under a proposal accepted by the city.

Mayor Mike Cahill announced on Tuesday that Briscoe will be sold to Harborlight Community Partners, a Beverly-based affordable housing agency, and Beacon Communities, a Boston-based real estate firm, for $600,000.

The organizations plan to renovate the building into 85 affordable apartments for seniors and 11 artist work studios, and preserve the auditorium for programming run by North Shore Music Theatre. The open spaces at the front and back of the building will remain city-owned parks.

“We’re excited,” Cahill said. “I’m confident that the community, based on all the conversations we’ve had, will embrace this. It really addresses some significant needs in the community.”

The winning proposal was one of four the city received for the building, which closed as a middle school last year with the opening of the new Beverly Middle School. The other proposals included combinations of housing, a community arts center, a business incubator, a brewery, and office space. The city mandated that the building be preserved in its request for proposals.

The bids ranged from a high of $4 million to a low of $1. Cahill said the sale price was only one of several factors in the city’s selection process.

Andrew DeFranza, executive director of Harborlight Community Partners, said the proposal was a reflection of what the city sought for the building, from preservation to affordable housing to maintaining public access. Briscoe, located at 7 Sohier Road, was built in 1923 and served as a high school, junior high school and middle school.

“We’re excited to see a lot of Beverly seniors to be able to continue to maintain their home in Beverly, in a place where maybe they went to school, their children went to school, and maybe their grandchildren went to school,” DeFranza said. “That’s an opportunity you don’t get that often.”

By staging shows in the auditorium, DeFranza said the public “will have access to a place that’s been important to people for 100 years.”

The Harborlight/Beacon plan, called Briscoe Village, calls for an initial investment of $39 million. DeFranza said the outside of the three-story building will look much like it does now. Classrooms will be turned into apartments, the auditorium and balcony will be preserved as a theater, and the larger industrial spaces in the building will be made into artist studios.

“From the outside it’s going to look like Briscoe,” DeFranza said.

Cahill said it was important for the city to keep ownership of the field at the back of the building, both for playing use and as a natural buffer between the neighborhood. 

“That was a commitment I made during the neighborhood meetings a couple of years ago,” he said.

DeFranza said Harborlight will model the senior housing on Turtle Creek and Turtle Woods, two other senior living apartment complexes that it operates in Beverly, as well as its Harborlight House assisted living facility. Outside agencies will provide on-site services such as meal preparation, personal care, medical care and cleaning -- “anything that helps a senior maintain their independence,” he said.

Cahill said the evaluation committee that looked at the proposals narrowed it down to Briscoe Village and a proposal by Winn Development for over-55 residential housing and an adult day health center, with the gymnasium and theater turned over to the YMCA. The Winn bid was $2.1 million.

The other bids were $4 million by San Francisco-based 20Mission for housing, a business incubator and a brewery, and $1 by Miranda’s Hearth for a community arts center and office space.

Cahill said construction will probably not start for two years. The project will require financing from several sources as well as an extensive permitting process, he said.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.

The proposed "Briscoe Village"

- 85 affordable apartments for seniors

- Auditorium/theater to be run by North Shore Music Theatre

- 11 artist work studios

- 'Turf bowl' park at front of building deeded to the city and restored with new seating, historic marker, and space for public art

-  Recreation field out back preserved as open space and deeded to the city

- Bus stop along Sohier Road

- Re-designed parking areas with approximately 214 parking spaces

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