[UPDATE: Monday's auction ended with the entire Daniel Webster College campus being sold for $12 million, which is about half of what the property was assessed at.]
When Daniel Webster College in Nashua announced it was permanently shutting its doors at the end of this past school year, students and staff were left wondering what’s next?
But a different question to be asked – is what happens to the 53-acre campus – comprising dorms, classrooms, an auditorium and a gym.
The campus has been for sale since the spring and Monday... it’s on the auction block.
For 52 years, the Daniel Webster campus was home to hundreds of students. But last May the campus closed for good – it’s been vacant ever since.
“This is what’s considered the administration building, there are some classrooms in it, it’s approximately 30,000 square feet and as you’ll see they literally dropped their pens and walked out," said Economic Development Director for Nashua Tim Cummings, who recently gave me a tour of the property.
While walking around, it felt like the college was hit with a zombie apocalypse. All the desks still have papers on them, posters of former students still hang on the walls but no one’s there.
The for-profit college and former flight school closed for financial reasons. It’s now working its way through the bankruptcy courts.
Southern New Hampshire University took most of the former college’s students but they weren’t interested in the campus. The city of Nashua also passed on buying it– claiming the property, assessed at $24 million, was too big, and too expensive.
Mike Matlat is the realtor charged with selling the property. He says they’ve had more than a hundred calls about it from people looking at various uses.
“A retreat facility, a religious facility, a senior living facility, a college," Matlat said.
And the calls haven’t been just local. Buyers in London have had interest – even officials from India have toured the campus with the idea of turning it into a yoga center.
Overall there are thirteen buildings consisting of more than 280,000 square feet. There’s also a flight center and an airport hangar.
"A gymnasium, auditorium, library, full-functioning cafeteria – it is literally a turn-key operation for a higher ed institution of some sort or some sort of academic setting," Cummings said during the tour.
Russ Thibeault is a local economist. He says the property has a lot of things going for it.
“It’s close to metropolitan Boston, it’s right next to the airport, it’s a nice piece of land," Thibeault said. "Immediately developable in a community that really does have a shortage of available developable land with very strong market demand in the area.”
This isn’t the first time a college campus has been on the market in New Hampshire. Since 1969, more than a dozen schools have shut their doors. Today, they’re being used as elementary schools, apartments, restaurants, inns, private homes and one is now a school for international Chinese students.
Credit Sara Plourde
Bradley Safalow runs an investment firm that follows for-profit colleges like Daniel Webster. He says rising college tuitions, growing student debt and a shift to community colleges makes it hard for small schools to stay afloat.
“You know we are in this midst of this major shakeout in higher education space over the last five to ten years so you’re seeing dozens if not hundreds of schools that have closed not only in the for-profit sector but even traditional institutions and there are plenty of others and there will be plenty more," Safalow said.
Cummings says the closing of Daniel Webster was a loss to the city of Nashua. Annually, the campus brought in roughly $660,000 in property taxes alone. Not to mention all the other economic benefits.
“This campus went dark the end of May and that was a loss of somewhere between a 1,000 to 1,200 bodies to the city itself and those folks would go out to Amherst Street and have lunch or stay in the hotels or otherwise use some of our amenities and entertainment," Cummings said.
The last stop on my campus tour was the library. The stacks were full of books and by the main desk were some local newspapers still out on display.
"Alright I’m going to show you the most eerie thing," Cummings began. "When I first toured this I was walking through – I came over and I was like, oh curious to see the date and sure enough it read May 26, 2017," he said pointing to the newspaper stand. "Clearly you know the last day they were here they put out their newspapers and it’s just like the last remnants of it.”
Since that day in May, the Daniel Webster campus has been a ghost town. But Monday it’s set to get a new owner, at auction.