September 15, 2007
By Jason Tait , Staff Writer
HAVERHILL - Secret maneuverings for a sale of Bradford College have been happening behind the scenes for several weeks, but the mystery may soon come to an end.
A sealed-bid auction to sell the 18-acre campus ends at 4 p.m. Tuesday, after which the New York-based owner Angelo Gordon & Co. can choose a winner or declare the auction null and void.
Potential buyers have been submitting their bids in sealed envelopes with deposits of $100,000. The winning bidder will be notified as soon as Wednesday and will have until Nov. 5 to finalize the deal, but the identity of the new owner may not become public until after the deed is transferred.
The college closed seven years ago due to financial problems, and the Bradford College Neighborhood Association has been pushing ever since to have an educational institution take over the campus, rather than have it turned into housing or used for commercial purposes.
Barbara Piccolo Greenwood, the neighborhood group's co-president, said residents are simply waiting for the results of the auction.
"There is no anxiety - are you kidding me," Greenwood said. "After seven years, I have no anxiety left."
The auctioneer, Justin Manning of JJ Manning Auctioneers of Cape Cod, has said the current owner intends to sell to the highest bidder, but is not required to do so.
After a national marketing campaign, interest in the campus appears to be high. Manning said dozens of potential buyers have toured the campus in the past two weeks, and there have been more than 4,000 hits on a special Web site promoting the sale. Official bidding documents have been downloaded from the Web site more than 500 times, he said.
Greenwood said she has literally been praying for a quality institution to buy the campus. Her favorite potential buyer is Zion Bible College of Rhode Island, which made an unsuccessful attempt to buy the college late last year and has said it is still interested.
"We believe the right thing is going to happen," Greenwood said.
The current zoning conditions call for the property to be used as an "academic center," meaning educational uses only. Any other uses, such as condominiums, would require a special permit from the City Council.
Angelo Gordon & Co. wants to liquidate the empty campus after years of failed negotiations with potential buyers, Manning has said.
Because of financial problems, Bradford College closed abruptly seven years ago after 197 years as a liberal arts school. It was bought just over a year later for $10.1 million by GFI Partners, an Angelo Gordon & Co. affiliate.
The auction includes eight buildings, featuring three signature halls fronting South Main Street - Academy, Haseltine and Denworth.
Bradford College was founded as Bradford Academy in 1803. In 1932, the school grew to become Bradford Junior College and was renamed Bradford College in 1971. It enrolled up to 600 students.
The road to auction
2000: In debt $20 million, Bradford College closes.
2002: Sale to Wreath School, an institution for emotionally troubled boys, fails.
2002: Boston development firm GFI Partners purchases the campus for $10.1 million.
May 2006: Cambridge College expresses interest in the campus but later withdraws.
December 2006: Zion Bible College of Rhode Island explores buying the college but backs out.
July 2007: Zion announces it is again trying to line up financing to buy the campus.
Sept. 18, 2007: Public auction scheduled.
Sept. 19, 2007: Winner chosen.
Nov. 5, 2007: Deadline for closing the sale.
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