BERLIN — Closed at the end of the 2018-2019 academic year, the Brown School, which was the city’s last public elementary school, may have a new life as a housing complex.
Founded in 1913 and expanded in the 1950s, the Brown School was shuttered because of what city officials said was the State of New Hampshire’s non-support of public education.
As the City Council set the 2019-2020 municipal budget, all departments were directed to make significant cuts, with the School Department reluctantly deciding that it could save about $300,000 by closing the Brown School and relocating all of its K-2 students and employees to other schools.
The Brown School Committee was subsequently formed by the City Council to dispose of the Brown School, which is located at 188 Main St. on a 1.2-acre parcel in the Norwegian Village section of the city, and is currently assessed by the city at $1,215,700.
The committee recently considered two requests for proposals — one from New England Family Housing and one from Wildcat LLC — and has recommended moving forward with the latter’s plan for 17 market-rate apartments. Each apartment would have its own storage unit and the school’s gymnasium would be converted into a fitness center with meeting space for the public. There would also be a small commercial space, possibly for a coffee shop.
Pamela Laflamme, Berlin’s community development director, on Jan. 3 said the committee valued both proposals, adding that both New England Family Housing and Wildcat LLC had proven records of accomplishment in the city.
But the committee ultimately decided that the best use of the Brown School would be as market-rate housing, not affordable housing, which is why, among other reasons, it chose Wildcat LLC.
Laflamme said the committee has just begun negotiating a purchase price with the Jackson-based company, which will present its concept for the Brown School at the Feb. 4 Planning Board meeting. The City Council has been invited.
Headed by Fred Dambrie, Wildcat LLC has built some of Berlin’s nicer apartment buildings, said Laflamme, who added that this proposal was a less intensive use of the Brown School property and, based on feedback from abutters, might be a better fit into a neighborhood made up of single-family residences.
Mayor Paul Grenier, according to committee meeting minutes, has said whatever proceeds the city receives from the sale of the Brown School should be appropriated to the schools for capital needs.