Repurposing and Retaining the Integrity of a Historic Building

By: Krista Broyles, AIA, LEED AP, Architect

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Case Study: SV Design is helping transform the former Briscoe Middle School in Beverly into affordable senior housing and artist studios while retaining the integrity of the original historical intent of the building.

Briscoe School opened its doors in 1923 as a high school and later became a middle school. It was a vibrant school in Beverly, MA for many years until it closed its doors in 2018 with the construction of a new middle school just down the street. Soon after, the City began to think about what the future of the now defunct school would be. SV Design’s commercial team was brought in early on to help reimagine the future of the historic building as Beverly Village for Living & the Arts: housing for the elderly and a vibrant art community with a design that is sensitive to maintaining its history. As an adaptive re-use project, we recognized great possibilities in restoring the building for modern uses while preserving the integrity of the original turn-of-the-20th-century details.


Most of the building’s original infrastructure and unique features are still in place, however it has aging systems, needs new windows, lacks sufficient insulation, and has many exterior masonry components in disrepair. The elevator is too small and not up to code, and is just one example of how the building needs to be brought up to today’s accessibility codes.

Due to its sound structure, we’re able to pursue a design opportunity that will respect the form and layout of the building.

The original floor plan, wide interior hallways, and walls between classrooms will be maintained, and the generously sized classrooms will become apartments with an eat-in kitchen and living room with large windows – creating a bright, open modern floor plan. In keeping with the historic restoration, the original classroom hardwood flooring will be retained and refinished.

While most interior details will be preserved, the windows will be replaced with new, energy efficient ones that have the exact profile of the original windows, including how the glass is divided. SV Design is working closely with the manufacturer to create an exact replica identical to the profile of the windows that were originally put in the building and to ensure they are ultimately approved by the Massachusetts Historical Commission, which is an extensive process enduring multiple rounds of review. The new windows will look as if they could be 100 years old, but they’ll have insulated glass, thermal breaks, and be up to today’s building code with modern energy efficiency.

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While new window replicas will be installed, the plan calls for preserving the original trim work throughout the building.

The elaborate millwork in the science labs will be carefully removed and later reinstalled in common amenity spaces such as the community room and lobbies, remaining a visible reminder of the original function of the building. Original classroom trim and chalkboards will remain exposed in the residential unit living rooms and in some bedrooms, along with original built in casework storage, integrating the historic preservation as a visible part of the unit design. Every piece of door, window, and base molding will be carefully removed, restored, and reapplied afterwards as a means of historic preservation.

There are a lot of things to consider in working to bring a 100-year-old building up to today’s code and modern design standards. One of the biggest challenges we found with this particular building was in its systems. Mechanical and electrical work needs to be hidden in the ducts, which is a challenge when working with all the original trim of the building, and other building code requirements – such as the need for additional elevators will be addressed. In some parts of the building it was necessary to raise the floor to address handicap accessibility issues. Insulation and a new roof membrane will also be added, and the project will be LEED Silver Certified.

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Careful consideration was given to the school’s beloved auditorium, a striking architectural component.

Members of the community and vested parties all wished to see this important piece of history with its deep coffered ceilings preserved. The auditorium mimics the Italian Renaissance Revival style of Symphony Hall in Boston and will eventually look more like it did when it was built than it does today.

Other rooms throughout the school will be creatively repurposed; the old gymnasium with its beautiful exposed trusses will transform into a community room, reading room, fitness room, yoga studio, wellness center, and will even have a gallery. There will be six live/work art studios in this space, giving artists a place to call their own. The old wood shop and its adjacent rooms on the lower level will be repurposed as a residential workshop, bike storage and pet washing areas.

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Our team at SV Design brought in a historic consultant to aid in the complicated Massachusetts Historic Commission filings, and to get the project approved for tax credits. Thanks to the vision of the leaders, developers, designers, and builders, this building will be given a new lease on life for its centennial birthday and with thoughtful restoration the completed project will look more like it originally did than it does today.

We are excited to be a part of repurposing and preserving Briscoe and to see the 85 affordable senior units and six live/work artist studios become Beverly Village for Living & the Arts. It is our thought that all people of Beverly will benefit from public use of the restored theater, woodshop, grass fields, and gardens, and that the building will still be a central part of the community 100 years from now.