City puts former Briscoe school up for sale

File photoCity officials are seeking proposals that would renovate and preserve the old Briscoe School building.

BEVERLY — The former Briscoe Middle School is officially for sale.

The city has issued a request for proposals for what it calls "one of Beverly's unique historic and cultural assets," with the stipulation that the building be preserved and redeveloped.

Mayor Mike Cahill said many people have made it clear since Briscoe closed as a school last year that they would like to see the building preserved.

"That's been the common message: We're looking for a renovation, not a tear-down," he said.

In the request for proposals, the city said it will prioritize seven possible uses for the building — senior affordable housing, artist live/work housing, mixed-income housing, a hotel, co-working space that may include a "maker space" or business incubator, commercial office space, and uses that allow public events in the building, particularly in its historic auditorium. 

Cahill said the city also values the green space around Briscoe. The two-acre playing field behind the building will be kept by the city for public use, as will the triangular-shaped landscape area in front of the building.

The Briscoe building is located on 6.5 acres at 7 Sohier Road. It was built in 1923 and served as the city's high school until 1965, when it became a junior high school and later a middle school. Briscoe closed in 2018 with the opening of the new Beverly Middle School on Cabot Street.

The city formed a committee in 2017 in anticipation of its closure to study if it could be re-used by the city. The committee considered options such as turning it into a police station and municipal office space. But the committee concluded that Briscoe was "too grand in scale and costly to reuse for municipal purposes given the city's spatial needs," according to the request for proposal.

Cahill said it would have cost twice as much to renovate Briscoe for a police station and city offices as it would to pursue the current plan to build a new police station on city-owned land at Cummings Center. That station is estimated to cost $24 million.

Cahill said the city could end up renting space within Briscoe, for example for Council on Aging programs, depending on the proposal that is selected. The building has larger spaces such as an auditorium, cafeteria and gymnasium.

The building is assessed at $5.3 million by the city. Cahill said sale price is one criteria but other factors will also be considered in the proposals.

The request for proposals says the building is in "moderately good condition." But a study on the feasibility of its reuse as a school says it would require a "comprehensive renovation" of its systems and components, including an "ancient" heating system.

A nonprofit called Miranda's Hearth has expressed interest in using the building as a community arts center, with space being rented to artists. Proposals are due by Aug. 9.

"I'm hopeful," Cahill said. "There are a number of high-quality parties who are interested in the building and interested in responding to the RFP."

In March, the Massachusetts Historical Commission issued an opinion that the Briscoe building is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. In a letter to the city, the commission described the building as a "well-preserved and well-detailed example of ambitious, early 20th century civic design in Beverly."

After almost 100 years as a school, Briscoe holds a lot of meaning for generations of Beverly residents, Cahill said.

"There's a whole lot of history, a whole lot of emotion, a whole lot of identity," he said. "Those all spoke to, 'Let's try to hold onto the building itself.'"

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