Democracy Builders, a nonprofit that founded a network of charter schools, has purchased the Marlboro College campus.
The deal was first announced in late May and the sale went through Wednesday, according to both parties. Dick Saudek, the chair of the Marlboro board of trustees, said Democracy Builders had agreed to assume an outstanding $1.5 million obligation to the Marlboro Music Festival, which had previously helped finance new facilities at the college, and to pay an additional $225,000.
The 500-acre property includes 17 miles of trails and more than 50 buildings. It also serves as the summer home to the world-renowned classical music festival.
The sale price was admittedly “very low,” Saudek said, although he noted that the market for campuses in Vermont — which has seen a spate of colleges close in recent years — is rather glutted. Still, he acknowledged the Democracy Builders bid wasn’t necessarily the highest one.
“There was interest by people who said they would pay more. But this one we found particularly attractive because of the educational component,” he said.
Citing years of declining enrollments, Marlboro College officials announced last year that the school would wind down operations at the end of the year and transfer its then-$30 million endowment and real estate holdings, valued at the time at about $10 million, to Emerson. In exchange, the Boston college has promised to honor all tenure agreements and take on all Marlboro undergraduates at a comparable price. The Emerson deal was also finalized this week.
Emerson had said from the start that it was not interested in Marlboro’s campus, and the real estate firm Colliers International was enlisted in April to market the southern Vermont property.
Democracy Builders has said they plan to create a low-residency, two-year degree program tailored to low-income, first-generation students. Degrees of Freedom, as the initiative is billed, touts itself as an “an early-college, late-high school program that offers students in grades 11-14 a fully-funded, flexible, and career-targeted degree.”
The group has released few details about what kind of programming the school will offer, and has not yet secured either state authorization to operate or accreditation, which is necessary if the college wants to accept students supported by federal financial aid.
Seth Andrew, Democracy Builders’ founder, is also under fire from a collective of former staff and students, many of whom are anonymous, who charge that the charter network he founded, Democracy Prep Public Schools, used abusive and inherently racist discipline practices. Andrew has expressed regret about some of the charter network’s policies, and has said Degrees of Freedom would be led, and designed, primarily by people of color.
When the initiative will actually launch appears to be a moving target.
As recently as earlier this month, officials said Degrees of Freedom would launch in 2020. At a selectboard meeting on Monday, a representative said the start date had been pushed back to 2022. In a statement released Thursday announcing the sale had closed, the group said they would uphold “the Marlboro legacy of student leadership” by creating a fellowship, which would launch this fall, to help design the specifics of the program. The program itself would launch in 2021, they said.
Andrew did not respond to a request for an interview Thursday.
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