KINGSTON — School officials are defending a proposal to sell the historic Sanborn Seminary property, which was most recently appraised for nearly $1 million, to a Newmarket developer for $200,000.
The proposed sale will be included on a warrant article for voters to consider in March, but the selling price has faced criticism from some who argue that the school district is giving away the 8-acre piece of property that served as the Sanborn Regional High School campus until a new school was built in 2006.
“You can barely buy a buildable lot in Kingston for $150K. It’s a huge, majestic structure. Its worth is far in excess of 200K,” wrote Kingston resident James Champion, who was one of many who weighed in on a community Facebook page.
But school officials insist that it’s a good deal because it would cost a developer an estimated $6.5 million to bring the shuttered 1883 Seminary building and a deteriorating science building up to current building codes to make them usable again.
According to Superintendent Thomas Ambrose, the building lost its Americans with Disabilities Act grandfathering when it was vacated nearly 15 years ago, and the cost to bring it into compliance would be “astronomical.”
The Sanborn Regional School Board recently voted to propose the warrant article to sell the property at 178 Main St. to Chinburg Properties.
Eric Chinburg, president of Chinburg Properties of Newmarket, has said he plans to restore the Seminary and science buildings and likely use them for apartments.
The Seminary is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Chinburg and the school board will hold a public question-and-answer session regarding the proposed sale; the session will take place on Jan. 22 at 6:30 p.m. in the high school library.
The property features other buildings that are still in use, including Swasey Gymnasium, which has undergone improvements in recent years; a maintenance garage; and a technology building.
Under the proposal, the district would look to lease back the gym, maintenance garage and technology building for $1 a year for up to 10 years for continued community use.
Town records show the property is assessed at $7.9 million, but officials caution that the figure is misleading. The assessment isn’t representative of the actual market value because it’s an exempt property.
“It’s not like residential or commercial property where we’ve had sales. They just don’t occur with exempt properties very often,” said Richard Dorsett, chief assessor for KRT Appraisal, which performs the assessing for the town of Kingston.
In this case, he said, the assessment reflects what it would likely cost to reconstruct the buildings today.
The proposed sale wasn’t put out to bid. According to officials, the district isn’t required to open the property for bidding, but has been looking for a buyer for 15 years.
The sale would be contingent on Kingston voters also approving the adoption of RSA 79-E, the Community Revitalization Tax Relief Incentive program that offers property tax relief to encourage investment in town centers and underutilized buildings.
To prepare for a sale, officials had the property appraised in 2017 by Hollis commercial real estate appraiser J. Chet Rogers, who concluded that it was worth $1,865,000.
It was appraised again in 2018 by Crafts Appraisal Associates Ltd. of Bedford. In its report, the company appraised the property for $975,000 if sold to a developer and $845,000 if sold to the town of Kingston.
The report described the Seminary building as an “outstanding polychromatic brick and limestone edifice which has completely retained its integrity of design, setting, materials and workmanship. It is architecturally significant to New Hampshire as the only school in the state in the high Victorian Gothic style and is in fact the finest example of this style in the state’s building stock.”
Both appraisals included a value for Chase Field, which is a sports field used by the school district and town but that is not being sold as part of the deal.
School officials say the Seminary building, which was the main high school building for generations, has deficiencies.
Part of the roof on the science building has failed. Some rooms and hallways are littered with fallen ceiling tiles.
The vacant Seminary and old science buildings have also been targeted by vandals who have broken windows and caused other damage.
“It’s awful. I can’t explain how bad it is,” said Peter Broderick, school board chairman.
The district spends close to $200,000 a year to maintain the property, school officials said.
Broderick insists that the proposed sale is a good deal for the school district given the money the district is spending to maintain the buildings.
“I believe that it’s an appropriate price. I have no problem standing up in front of people and telling them what I think,” he said.
School board member Electra “Ellie” Alessio agreed.
“The town and the school district have a lot to gain by putting this property into private hands. The town needs to look at opportunities for development,” she said.