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Northfield Mount Hermon School alum’s $10 million donation to seed science project

— With a $10 million donation from a former student in hand, Northfield Mount Hermon School intends to jump-start a $50 million campaign to replace its science center and complete the faculty exodus from the former Northfield campus.

School head Peter Fayroian announced the gift Thursday to a full auditorium of faculty and staff, describing the hefty donation as an affirmation of the school’s quality.

According to the school, the donation from class of 1950 alumnus Richard Gilder is the largest cash gift in the school’s 134-year history, the largest such gift to a New England boarding school this year and among the largest from a living donor in five years.

Fayroian said the $10 million is being invested immediately and the interest earned will go toward the construction of new on-campus housing for the dozen or so school employees remaining on the former Northfield campus after the school’s 2005 consolidation.

The full sum will be used after a couple of years as seed money for a new science, math and technology center, Fayroian said.

Cutler Science Center, the existing facility, does not meet the needs of students or faculty, Fayroian said.

“Most importantly, this gift will signal to the community and the world that Northfield Mount Hermon is beginning a new chapter in its history,” he said. “Make no mistake, this gift will reverberate around the country.”

Asked from the audience whether the combination of math, science and technology in one building signals closer integration of those programs, Fayroian said he is not sure exactly what the proposal will look like.

While replacement of the Cutler center features in the school’s master plan, the unexpected donation recently brought the project to the forefront.

The school is currently presenting an estimated price tag of $50 million.

“According to our research, comparable schools have spent between $25 million and $60 million on new science centers; because we are among the larger private schools, we expect that our costs will be on the higher end of that range,” wrote Hannah Wareham, a school spokeswoman, and Gilder’s donation will begin the fundraising process.

Fayroian praised teachers for their work and said the school is reclaiming its position of leadership among private boarding schools following the consolidation to a single campus, and rebuilding the confidence necessary to secure funding from donors.

“This is the work of the whole school,” Fayroain said. “People don’t make this kind of gift to an institution they’re not supremely proud of and confident in.” Gilder, 80, is a founding partner of a New York City brokerage firm, a former NMH trustee and longtime supporter, according to the school.

Gilder has made substantial contributions to the school in the past, including a $1 million donation to the arts and theater program in 2011 that resulted in the naming of a theater in the arts center in honor of his wife, Lois C. Chiles, according to a release from the school.

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