Thomas Aquinas College, Moody Center bar dogs from Northfield campus

  • The main entrance to the former Northfield Mount Hermon School campus in Northfield. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Stone Hall at the former Northfield Mount Hermon School campus in Northfield. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • The auditorium building at the former Northfield Mount Hermon School campus in Northfield. Recorder Staff/Paul Franzz

  • A Moody Center building at the former Northfield Mount Hermon School campus in Northfield. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Friday, July 14, 2017

NORTHFIELD — Under the ownership of Thomas Aquinas College and The Moody Center, Northfield’s furry friends will have to find somewhere other than the 217-acre campus to play.

The two entities recently agreed not to allow dogs on the campus, though residents will still be able to walk leashed dogs on the public sidewalks in accordance with town bylaws.

According to Emmitt Mitchell, president of The Moody Center, and Michael McLean, president of Thomas Aquinas College, the change is intended to maintain the beauty and security of the campus as more programs are offered and more visitors arrive.

“Now that there are people attending conferences and walking the campus, it’s not real attractive to have dogs leave their calling cards around the campus,” explained Larry Edge, manager of the Northfield Campus LLC, the organization owned by the National Christian Foundation that oversaw the campus during its vacancy, and who is still involved with establishing the two entities. “We don’t intend in any way to restrict people from using the perimeters of the campus.”

“It’s beauty and hygiene on the one hand, and safety on the other,” McLean added.

McLean explained landscape crews expressed frustration with finding droppings, also recounting an anecdote involving an unleashed dog approaching a couple with young children who were touring the campus.

“A dog came bounding across the landscape toward the child,” he said. Though the dog was friendly, McLean said “there’s that element of uncertainty.”

“You just never know what could happen,” he added.

Before Thomas Aquinas College and The Moody Center gained ownership of the campus on May 2, Mitchell explained, “the National Christian Foundation had just graciously allowed people to use the campus and enjoy the beauty of it within the bounds of security.”

With limited opportunities for dogs to interfere with ongoing programs, Mitchell explained, many residents grew accustomed to walking their dogs there.

“We feel obligated to inform citizens that the property has to be respected for the purposes intended,” Mitchell said, with he and McLean knowing there would need to be a transition.

Many residents of the Northfield community learned about the change last week, via a post on the social networking website “Nextdoor” written by Jay Merrill. Merrill said he was notified by a contracted worker that the campus is now closed to dogs, calling it a “sad day for those of us that used that campus as a community space for walking.”

The post generated 51 comments as of press time Friday.

“Some have expressed disappointment, perhaps reasonably so given the history of the campus, and others have been in support,” McLean said. “It’s been kind of a mixed bag.”

Residents proposed signing a letter to The Moody Center and Thomas Aquinas College, or starting a dog walker certification program where involved locals would wear badges. Others offered alternatives, such as dog parks in Orange and Greenfield.

“This is a sad day, we loved walking our dog on the campus,” June Moran commented on Nextdoor. “This is not a great way to begin as a new neighbor.”

Those in understanding emphasized the property doesn’t belong to the town.

“The new owners have every right to restrict access in whatever areas they feel are necessary,” Heather Tower commented on Nextdoor. “We have been lulled for these past 12 years (while the campus was vacant) into thinking of the campus as ours.”

“It’s important for the public to understand that’s private property,” explained Willie Morales, Northfield’s new town administrator.

Mitchell said anywhere from five to 10 security and maintenance staff are on the campus at any given time to remind people of the change as necessary. As Thomas Aquinas College still needs approval from the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education before it can begin teaching students, McLean said he’s been reluctant to add any signs announcing the dog rules.

Aside from dogs, McLean said he’s also been asked if sledding in the winter will be allowed, as it has been in the past. He said he’s not prepared to speak on the matter at this time, but will carefully assess requests for public use.

“The college and The Moody Center has to be very mindful of the safety, as well as any liability issues,” McLean said.

McLean and Mitchell hope to communicate with residents about their concerns.

“Anything the community is concerned about, we want to be concerned about,” Mitchell said. “We want to be good neighbors.”

Reach Shelby Ashline at:

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