The Keene State College Bruder House, or as many students know it, the “toilet paper house,” has been sold to the Historical Society of Cheshire County.
The final purchase price for the property at 349 Main Street totaled $199,958, and the agreement between the University System of New Hampshire (USNH) and the Historical Society was settled on Feb. 2, 2018, according to a right to know request submitted to Administrative Assistant of Partnerships and Shared Services for USNH Lily Newton.
In terms of KSC’s $5.5 million deficit, Interim President of KSC Melinda Treadwell said the sale of the Bruder House was not part of any original conversations surrounding the budget.
“It just happened that it was happening this year,” Treadwell said.
A commitment to the sale of the Bruder House property was among one the first documents Treadwell said she signed when she first came to KSC this past summer, but the sale was a “total coincidence,” she said.
“It had nothing to do with the budget, it had to do with the timing of when the Historical Society was ready to [purchase] it. It does help us because we’ll book revenue this year, but it was not part of a long plan for this budget cycle,” Treadwell said.
Director of Physical Plant at KSC Frank Mazzola said long ago, the Bruder House served as a bakery and café and was later carved into three apartments.
The units were then rented out to students attending Antioch University and KSC by an individual who is believed to have lived in Harrisville, New Hampshire, according to Mazzola.
As the ’90s and early 2000s approached, he said KSC experienced a growth curve and began to take an interest in properties that bordered campus. In effort to “protect our front door,” and provide land to the college if ever needed, KSC officially acquired the Bruder House in 2010.
When renovations were being done to Fiske Hall in 2006, the Bruder House happened to be where the toilet paper and paper towels were being stored at the time, hence the “toilet paper house” name.
Although KSC took ownership of the property about eight years ago, it’s always remained empty, Mazzola said. The 2013 Master Plan established that KSC was unable to find “any good use for the house.”
Soon after KSC acquired the property, the Historical Society indicated interest in the building, and in 2015, an intent to purchase letter was signed, which “locked them in as the buyer of preference for the house,” Mazzola said. This, then, allowed the society to submit grants and fundraise for full purchase.
According to Development Director of the Historical Society Rick Swanson, the society launched a capital campaign to repair, improve and expand the Bruder House facilities.
They raised $2.4 million and reached their target in 2017.
In spring of 2017, the Historical Society notified KSC they were ready to consummate the purchase, and a check was written from the Law Office of Thomas R. Hanna on Dec. 19, 2017 for $199,958 to the University System of New Hampshire.
The property value has decreased over the years, however.
In February of 2009, the house was first appraised by Susan E. Tierney at $265,000, according to the right to know request submitted to Newton.
In February of 2014, the property was appraised again, this time by Mary-Ann D. Robator, at $237,000, and in March of 2017, the most recent appraisal date, the property’s market value, also by Robator, had reached $199,000.
Mazzola said the building is in “rough condition,” and is unusable for anything in its current state.
However, Swanson said the Historical Society will require several hundred thousand dollars worth of work to renovate and make suitable for use. Renovations will begin in April, as it’s currently in the design phase.
Future Plans for the Historical Society of Cheshire County
The Historical Society of Cheshire County plans to renovate the building, which sits adjacent to the Wyman Tavern, and use it as a cultural heritage center to welcome individuals and families to both the society and the city of Keene. “We see it as two-fold, Swanson said, “welcoming people to the Historical Society, but also welcoming people in terms of tourism and economic development.”
It’s purpose is far from simple, however. “About five years ago, we kind of made a decision, our Board of Trustees made a decision, that the future of historical societies or historical house museums like the Wyman Tavern was not in being like a dusty archive where somebody might come once and take a look, but more like the the idea of a cultural heritage center, where people want to come back again and again because history is coming alive, through performance, through music, through dance, through reenactments, food, all of that kind of stuff and helping find relevance and a sense of place,” Swanson explained.
In order to roll out more programs, the Historical Society needed more space. Rather than renovating and expanding the Wyman Tavern, which proved impractical because of its historical aspects, the society opted to purchase the Bruder House from KSC instead.
Future Plans for KSC
In terms of other buildings on the KSC campus, President Treadwell said the Bushnell Apartments and Randall Hall need a lot of infrastructure updates. Taking them “off our books” may benefit the college, she said.
An immediate asset write-off of the buildings, meaning closing them or taking them down for more green space, would not only provide an immediate budget reduction, but would allow the college to recover depreciation, which she said has been put in the budget for several years.
Randall Hall, she said, needs almost $15 million in investment to make habitable.
Overall, however, students and community members can expect to see both new and traditional programs at the Historical Society’s newly-purchased cultural heritage center.
Jessica Ricard can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org