Marlboro Music purchases former college campus


Jakob Menendez

A view of part of the old Marlboro College campus.

By Camilo Fonseca, Editor-at-large

A chamber music group closed its purchase of the former Marlboro College campus on Tuesday, a culmination to months of uncertainty over the land after the school was absorbed by Emerson last year.

The Marlboro School of Music, which hosts an annual music festival in the eponymous Vermont town, bought the campus from Democracy Builders Fund for $2.74 million, according to the organization’s social media. The group has called the 500-acre parcel home since its inception in 1951, sharing the campus with college students until Marlboro College merged with Emerson in July 2020.

“[This] purchase ensures that this beautiful and historic property will remain intact, preserved, and the home campus for Marlboro Music for generations to come,” wrote Marlboro Music President Christopher Serkin in a statement published to the organization’s website.

The purchase brings an end to the lengthy quagmire surrounding the campus’ future. Under the terms of the merger, Emerson acquired Marlboro College’s assets and endowments, enrolling much of its student population—but not the campus itself.

Instead, Marlboro auctioned off the land to third parties, selling it to Democracy Builders for $225,000—significantly less than Emerson’s $10 million valuation. Democracy Builders head Seth Andrew, once an adviser in the administration of former President Barack Obama, launched his own hybrid learning college program at the site.

However, Democracy Builders’ plans to sell the property to a Canadian businessman fell through in March for undisclosed reasons, raising the specter of litigation over the property. The next month, Andrew was arrested on federal charges of wire fraud, false bank statements, and money laundering.

Marlboro Music, whose bid was rejected during the initial auction process, announced its renewed intentions to buy the campus on July 26. The deal was confirmed after receiving approval from the Vermont attorney general’s office.

Over the past 70 years, the group has brought internationally recognized artists and composers like Samuel Barber and Aaron Copland to Marlboro’s campus. Serkin said that the school of music’s enduring presence would provide continuity for the small town of less than 1,000 residents.

“While it will create some important challenges, the purchase brings a vital measure of stability to our organization, to the surrounding community, and to the many patrons and constituents who feel as protective as we do about this special place,” he said.

To this end, Marlboro Music formed a nonprofit subsidiary, Potash Hill Inc., to “manage and oversee” the newly acquired campus. It also sponsored the construction of a new building on campus with three rehearsal studios, administrative offices, and a music library storing some 8,500 chamber scores.

The group also formed a task force to determine the usage of the campus over the course of the “offseason” between September and May.

“Once its work begins later this fall, the task force will be seeking input from many interested parties as we determine the best off-season use of the campus in the years ahead, and as we build support to help cover the costs of conserving this beautiful property and addressing its ongoing maintenance and capital needs,” Serkin wrote.