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C.S. Lewis College still looking at Northfield campus

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO
An aerial view of the Northfield Mount Hermon campus.

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO An aerial view of the Northfield Mount Hermon campus. Purchase photo reprints »

“We have a couple other options, but we’re not actively pursuing them until we see what happens with the Northfield campus,” said J. Stanley Mattson, founder of the C.S. Lewis College Foundation. “We like shooting for the highest and the best.” The college would have hosted its first classes in Northfield this fall, had everything gone according to plan. Mattson said the school is concentrating its search on the five-college region, after falling in love with the Pioneer Valley.

“We liked the diversity of the area, and its interest in the arts,” he said. “It’s something the Pioneer Valley is rich in, and treasures.” The Northfield campus was, and is, Mattson’s pre­See CAMPUS Page A2 Campus: C.S. Lewis still trying to raise money From Page A1 ferred location.

“It was so compatible on so many fronts,” said Mattson. The campus’ rural, quiet nature, its historic buildings, the size, and the legacy of NMH founder D.L. Moody all drew Mattson to the campus, and led him to ask the Green family of Oklahoma to help bring it back to its original glory.

The C.S. Lewis College was the intended recipient when Hobby Lobby Stores and the Green family of Oklahoma bought the 217-acre former home of the Northfield Mount Hermon School. At the end of 2011, the college had fallen short of a $5 million fundraising goal, and the Greens began to consider other options.

Over 100 interested parties responded to the Greens’ call for a Christian school, college, or other organization. The list was whittled down to two finalists in June.

The Greens encouraged those groups to consider working with the C.S. Lewis college if awarded the campus.

“We left it that if someone became a serious candidate for the campus, we would be very open to discussions,” said Mattson. “Nobody reached that point before Grand Canyon University, and they wanted the entire campus.” GCU’s plans would have filled the campus’ 43 buildings and then some. The school planned to host 5,000 students, most of whom would live oncampus, by 2018. Before NMH consolidated to its Mount Hermon campus in 2005, its Northfield campus was home to some 700 resident students and faculty.

Mattson also wanted to use the entire campus, but planned to host 450 traditional college students, and another 450 in a school of visual and performing arts to be opened later.

While GCU planned to build additional dormitories for thousands of students, Mattson’s plan would have fit right into the former boarding school campus.

“I think we had a very compatible vision,” said Mattson. “We just need to find the donors to make that happen.” Though its much smaller use of the campus wouldn’t have necessitated the $30 million in infrastructure improvements that GCU cited as the chief reason for refusing the campus, the C.S. Lewis College still needed to raise a large part of its operating costs before opening. Mattson said the school needed an initial $15 million, and would have to raise $75 million in its first years.

Being a startup college without alumni or endowments, the C.S. Lewis college had a difficult time raising money, and the state of the economy didn’t help that, said Mattson.

He remains hopeful, though, and will fly to Dallas, Texas, next week, where he will meet with several prospective donors. Securing big donations takes time, he said, and relationship- building.

While Mattson was working on bringing his college to town, he was all the while fostering a relationship with Northfield.

That’s something GCU never did. Since it was offered the campus on Sept. 21, GCU officials have had no contact with town officials.

Mattson and other C.S. Lewis College officials, on the other hand, regularly attended town meetings, updated town officials and made themselves available.

Though he was in regular contact with town officials, Mattson’s time in Northfield wasn’t all business. He made an effort to get to know Northfield and its residents on a personal level. He said the bonds he and his wife have made with the town and its residents will last a lifetime.

“We love Northfield,” he said. “We make an annual pilgrimage to Tanglewood. We’ll surely stop in for a round of crouquet with the Tufts, and visit with other friends in town.” Mattson was pleased the C.S. Lewis College brought the campus to the Greens’ attention. The family put more than $6 million into renovations on the long-neglected campus, restoring the condemned Sage Chapel and other iconic buildings.

Mattson is also glad the town will now have more time to prepare itself for whoever its new neighbors may be, as the Greens begin a year-long process of finding another qualified Christian recipient.

“I’m so glad the town is updating its master plan,” he said. “In a way, it’s a great privelege that they now have time to have the opportunity to take a breath and assess everything involved.” Whether or not the C.S. Lewis College finds its home in Northfield, Mattson hopes the campus is put to good use.

“I really feel for Northfield,” he said. “We want what’s best for the town.”

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