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Epsom Free State Project school site sold at foreclosure auction

EPSOM - Pathfinder Academy, an Epsom Montessori school owned by a member of the Free State Project, was sold back to its mortgage bank at an auction Tuesday.

The private school had filed for bankruptcy in August.

According to Justin Conway of Paul McInnis Auctioneer Inc., there were third-party bidders at the auction, but none met Bank of New Hampshire's (formerly Laconia Savings Bank) price. Conway said he was not at liberty to divulge the final price or the identities of the third-party bidders. The property's value has been assessed at $844,900.

Pathfinder Academy was founded by Wayne Anderson and his wife, Julie, in 2001 to counter what Anderson referred to as the "socialist indoctrination" of the mainstream education system. Anderson is affiliated with the libertarian Free State Project movement and identifies as an "Objectivist," a philosophy based on the writings of Ayn Rand.

Montessori schools are not necessarily libertarian-leaning. Montessori is a "child-centered" education system that features multi-age student groups, uninterrupted work time, guided student choice of activity, emphasizing "discovery learning" over instruction.

Pathfinder Academy opened with about 40 students, peaking at 75 in 2007. Anderson told the Concord Monitor in 2010, however, that after 2007, enrollment dropped yearly by about 10 students. At the time, he blamed government regulations and the faltering economy. According to Anderson, the school's entire budget came from annual tuition, which was $7,100 per elementary student and $7,500 per junior high student in 2010.

The school's revenue in 2010, 2011 and 2012 was about $295,000, $221,000 and $61,000 respectively, of which the school kept about $6,000 in profits, according to the filing. By August 2012 the school had $123 in checking account and $13,000 in assets while owing over $257,000 to its creditors.

Anderson's Pathfinder Real Estate company, which is the school's listed owner, also filed for bankruptcy in the same month, listing close to $600,000 in debts, most of it to its mortgage bank and now owner, Bank of New Hampshire.

As of Jan. 11, the real estate company also owed $50,384.70 in property taxes to the town of Epsom from the last three years, according to the Epsom tax collector's office.

The Andersons claim that the company owes them $100,000 for personal funds they invested into the business to keep it operational in its final years. In the last year, the Andersons withdrew $2,000 from the company for living expenses.

The property, described as "mixed-use" by the Paul McInnis auction notice, is located at 59 Sawyer Ave. in Epsom and is "visible from the traffic circle." The 3.5-acre complex includes four buildings that total more than 9,000 square feet: a main house, two classroom buildings, and an outbuilding with two drive-in doors used as garage and workshop.

According to the auction notice, the property is zoned for residential and commercial use.

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