Almost all of the former faculty and students of Marlboro College have not set foot on their idyllic Potash Hill campus since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. Now, weeks after the campus’ sale was finally closed, many are breathing a sigh of relief, comfortable with the future of their beloved former stomping grounds.
After merging with Emerson last year, Marlboro auctioned off their campus to a third-party education company—initiating a long, convoluted saga ending with the property’s sale to the Marlboro School of Music on Sept. 28. Marlboro Music has hosted a chamber music festival on the campus since 1951, working to raise musicians and allow a space for performance on the campus.
“The music festival, essentially, has been there as long as the college,” Adam Franklin-Lyons, an associate professor at Emerson who taught at Marlboro for 11 years, said in an interview. “It’s not like the college was there and then a music festival got started; they have basically been existing in parallel in that space from the beginning.”
Associate Professor Todd Smith expressed his satisfaction with the acquisition. He said he was comforted by the knowledge that the property’s future would not be decided by a third-party group, but by a member of the Marlboro family.
“I found it to be kind of a relief,” he said. “The Marlboro School of Music and the music festival are known to a lot of people on campus.”
Smith, who taught environmental studies at Marlboro from 1999 until the merger, said he was personally familiar with the group and had come to understand “the depth of their appreciation” for the Potash Hill campus.
“They have a reputation to be great,” Sullivan Segreto, a senior former Marlboro student, said in reference to the property’s new owners. “They’ve done great in the past and they are dedicated to the Marlboro community. It warms my heart to see that they’re, they’re going to take care of it, they’re going to maintain it.”
The resolution of the land’s status, so important to so many in the former Marlboro community, is especially poignant considering the property’s troubled history over the past year. A committee determining the future of the land initially sold it to Democracy Builders, an educational group founded by former Obama administration official Seth Andrew—who was later arrested on charges of wire fraud and false bank statements.
“What the committee wanted is clear,” Franklin-Lyons said. “They were hopeful that [sale] would work out. I wasn’t on the committee, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t imagine that it would fail this spectacularly.”
The chamber music group purchased the campus for $2.47 million from Democracy Builders Fund, with plans to use it during the summer. What the campus will be used for during the festival’s offseason—September through May—remains unknown, though former members of the college have their respective desires for the space.
“There was talk of seeing if the [local] elementary school could use part of the campus,” Smith said. “There’s an elementary school in town that’s on a fairly busy road and people would really like to have the school away from that busy road. If there [was] a way to have them make use of part of the campus, I think some community members would want that..”
Student Government Association Executive Vice President Pranit Chand, a junior interdisciplinary studies major and former Marlboro student, said there wasn’t one single answer for how to best use the space.
“Honestly, there’s not a one-stop solution,” he said. “If you’re judging from past experiences, although we were at ‘the hill’ for like 75 years, the college itself wasn’t a sustainable business. Times are changing. Maybe something like a research park or a ski resort—there are some innovative things I think that could be done with the campus.”
However, the time it took for Marlboro Music to acquire the campus was puzzling to many, especially given their initial bid during the primary auction process was rejected.
“[I have] a little bit of frustration because they had the option to buy the campus initially,” Smith said. “I’m sort of speculating here—but my understanding was that they didn’t want to have to be responsible for the campus and maintain it during the times when they weren’t using it, which is most of the year.”
“On the other hand, if they had bought it initially, we would have been spared a lot of turmoil, anxiety and distress in the intervening period, so that was part of the mix,” he continued.
Despite their relief, those The Beacon spoke to highlighted the trauma inflicted upon the townspeople, especially those who worked at Emerson.
“A number of them were faculty and staff and were fully integrated in their life at the college,” Smith said. “It was inseparable to them and so this experience of having the college close, it was really traumatic. The uncertainty about what happened to it similarly [was] difficult for people who lived there.”
Franklin-Lyons said that, in his eyes, he hadn’t worked at Marlboro for very long—only a little over a decade—but that he also understood why the campus held such outsized importance for so many people.
“I liked working there, but there were a lot of people who live in the town of Marlboro who felt this [feeling of trepidation],” he said. “There are people for whom this is more visceral.”
Marlboro Music could not be reached for comment on the acquisition.