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New owner to visit Northfield campus next week

NORTHFIELD — The National Christian Foundation — a Georgia-based nonprofit that now owns the former Northfield Mount Hermon campus — plans to give the 217-acre property to another educational institution, although it is revealing few other details about the process it will undergo in finding a new permanent owner.

But at least one representative from the foundation will tour the campus next week and begin meeting with town leaders to “craft a vision for the next chapter of this storied campus,” said Aimee Minnich, president of the foundation’s Kansas City office.

“We’re attracted to the campus for its aesthetic beauty and rich history, and we’re thrilled to be a part of bringing new life to the campus,” said Minnich.

Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma-based arts and crafts retail chain owned by the billionaire Green family, donated the property to National Christian Foundation last week.

A prepared statement issued Wednesday by Hobby Lobby expressed confidence that the foundation “will continue the work of finding a long-term owner for the property.”

Hobby Lobby believes that decision will still honor the legacy of D. L. Moody — a Christian evangelist who founded two schools in the late 19th century that would ultimately become the current Northfield Mount Hermon private school.

“We have great faith and confidence in the National Christian Foundation and their ability to be responsible stewards of this campus,” said Jerry Pattengale, a man hired by the Greens to find a new owner for the campus, in the statement.

“We look forward to seeing what the future holds for this historic property and wonderful community,” he said.

Representatives from Hobby Lobby and the National Christian Foundation would not provide a time line of events leading up to last week’s transfer, other than to say that conversations have taken place for the last couple of months.

But the Hobby Lobby statement said that the organization has donated other projects to the foundation in the past. The National Christian Foundation is the largest Christian grant-making organization in the United States, donating $590 million to more than 10,000 charities across the globe last year, according to the release.

On Wednesday, Town Administrator Thomas Hutcheson had not yet heard from the National Christian Foundation.

He said he was still unclear if the foundation would have to pay taxes on the property, echoing that of Hobby Lobby — which paid the town $861,865 over the past two years.

“We are looking into the status of the property,” Hutcheson told The Recorder Monday. “It is possible that it will be taxed according to use instead of ownership so that unless it is used as a nonprofit institution it may still be taxable, at least to some degree.”

Minnich was unsure what the tax bill will be for this year, but said that the foundation is “familiar with what Hobby Lobby has paid in the past for ad valorem taxes.”

Alex Stewart — chairman of the Northfield Campus Collaborative Committee, which serves as a public forum for residents and other interested parties — had also not heard from the Northfield Christian Foundation Wednesday, but expressed eagerness to begin the collaboration.

“We’re looking forward to learning more about the organization and to working closely with them to find the right fit for the campus,” said Stewart.

Kathleen Wright, chairwoman of the Northfield Selectboard, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

A three-year search
for a new owner

The quest to find a new permanent owner for the property began after Northfield Mount Hermon — originally founded as the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies in Northfield and the Mount Hermon School for Boys in Gill — decided in 2005 to consolidate to the Gill campus.

Hobby Lobby purchased the 217-acre property three years ago for $100,000. It planned to lease the property to the C.S. Lewis Foundation, a Christian organization hoping to open a new college on the campus.

But when that organization failed to meet a fundraising deadline one year ago, Hobby Lobby went back to the drawing board. A field of over 50 applicants was ultimately narrowed to two: Grand Canyon University and the North American Mission Board.

This past September, Hobby Lobby awarded the campus to Grand Canyon University, a for-profit Christian college that hoped to open its doors in 2014. But the college withdrew from consideration one month later.

Northfield Mount Hermon first announced the news of the donation to the National Christian Foundation on its website Monday. The school has no stake in the selection of the campus’ future owner.

According to the NMH site, the National Christian Foundation must honor agreements made by Hobby Lobby in their initial contract three years ago.

For instance, NMH is still allowed to hold its annual sacred concert in the campus auditorium.

And, according to the NMH site, the foundation is prohibited from using the property for hazardous waste treatment or fossil fuel or nuclear power generation. It also can’t turn the property into a transfer station, correction facility or use it for “adult entertainment.”

You can reach Chris Shores at:
cshores@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

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