The decision by Grand Canyon University to walk away from the deal that would have allowed the school to take over the former Northfield Mount Hermon campus in Northfield was obviously a shocker.
As dismayed as Northfield residents may be about the news, however, the announcement raises bigger concerns about the property’s future.
In particular, the amount of money involved in upgrades and maintenance of the campus.
One of the appealing prospects of having Grand Canyon come to town was the school’s apparent willingness to invest heavily in the buildings and infrastructure. To set up a 5,000-student college there, the school said it was going to spend $150 million over a five-year period. But in starting to do more detailed homework on the property — which the school could only do once it was awarded the opportunity by the Green family — it apparently became clear that the water and sewer upgrades were going to cost an additional $30 million beyond what Grand Canyon first estimated.
And that, according Brian Mueller, the college’s president and CEO, turned out to be a deal breaker.
What Northfield residents should be concerned about finding out just what kind of money it is really going to take for renovations, upgrades and maintenance.
Maybe the Greens’ next selection won’t have quite the size of operation that GCU was envisioning, but whatever the plan is for the campus, it is going to require a significant financial investment. Even if the plan doesn’t call for much in the way of new buildings, upgrades are necessary for many of the buildings that haven’t been used daily since NMH moved fully to its Gill campus five years ago.
And while the Green family undoubtedly been willing to make their own investment in stabilizing the campus infrastructure — the family has said it has put $6 million into the property — it’s clear there is more that has to be done.
The worry, then, shouldn’t be about the kind of Christian pedigree the next suitor brings to the table (just like Northfield shouldn’t waste time over the question of whether GCU tried to initially spin its decision by blaming the town for not helping financially with the upgrade). Instead, it should have a clear sense of any future applicants’ financial resources to meet the price tag for campus maintenance and upgrades.