Reporting Joe Shortsleeve
NORTHFIELD (CBS) – It could be the best real estate deal in the state. A 200+ acre campus with dozens of iconic buildings is being offered for free if the owner’s criteria can be fulfilled.
Specifically, the old Northfield Mount Hermon School has to be converted into a religious based institution.
More than 30 proposals have been submitted to take over the bucolic campus.
Right now, the grounds feel as if time is frozen. The pathways are empty as there are no students hurrying to class.
The future of this campus is the talk of Northfield according to Joan McCrea Stoia, a local innkeeper. She said people are discussing the future of the school at lunch counters and in backyard conversations.
For more than a century this private boarding school was the lifeblood of Northfield, a town of about 2,800 which straddles the Connecticut River near the borders of New Hampshire and Vermont.
“At its heart, this is a real estate transaction, but it’s a transaction about a piece of property that has a deep history and meaning to people around the world,” said McCrea Stoia.
The entire campus was bought by the Green Family of Oklahoma for just $100,000 when the Mount Hermon school consolidated campuses in 2006.
The family has pumped five million dollars into the facilities and now wants to give the property to an evangelical institution.
One of the proposals has come from Liberty University, the school founded by the Reverend Jerry Falwell who created the Moral Majority. They are interested in a portion of the campus.
Word of that proposal has sparked a petition drive by alumni and area residents who fear an atmosphere of intolerance. The online petition has drawn more than a thousand signatures.
James Ault, class of 1964, has written on the school’s history and said he wasn’t surprised by the backlash against Liberty University. “There are a lot of progressive people, liberal minded people, who have been graduates of the school,” he explained.
An out of state consultant has been hired by the Green family to assess all of the proposals.
Former Northfield planning board member Don Campbell is confident the Green family wants a good fit for the community.
“I think people are starting to calm down,” added Campbell. “The presence of a new neighbor doesn’t change your values. You are who you are.”
Hundreds of new students on the campus, and their visiting parents would be good news for the local economy. “We’re expecting there will be a great deal of commerce, that the town will once again be a hub of activity for people from all over the world,” said McCrea Stoia.
The Liberty University proposal has one disadvantage. They have only expressed interest in a portion of the campus. The consultant assessing the applications tells WBZ-TV4 the Green family is most interested in plans that take all the grounds.
A decision is at least a month away.