WENHAM — Gordon College has reached an agreement to sell part of its land to a development company which plans to build housing for people aged 55 and over.
In an email to the university community, Gordon College President Michael Hammond said the sale would generate “an eight figure figure” and help the college pay down its long-term debt.
“This will provide much needed financial flexibility by allowing us to repay long term debt and ultimately will provide the Town of Wenham with additional tax revenue as Gordon’s property is tax exempt,” wrote Hammond.
Hammond said in the email that he could not release exact details until the deal was finalized. But he said the land is located to the west and around the college’s Woodland parking lot and the development would be accessed via Grapevine Road. The development, which would require approval from the town of Wenham, would be done in three phases on three separate project lots and would take at least four years to complete. Up to 10% of the units would be designated as affordable housing.
Wenham Town administrator Steve Poulos identified the developer as PulteGroup. The Atlanta-based company is the third-largest homebuilder in the nation with operations in more than 40 major cities, according to its website. Poulos said the company has yet to submit plans to the city. The project will have to be examined by the town planning council. Poulos described the site as a “significant piece of land” and said it adjoined Coy Pond.
“Like any project, we want to ensure that the development ultimately benefits the city and its residents,” Poulos said.
Hammond, who became president of Gordon College in July 2021, said the college pays $1.7 million in debt charges each year, which he called a “significant burden” on its operating budget and its cash flow. He said the college’s board of trustees voted two years ago to allow “targeted exploration” of offers to purchase certain college lands to pay off that debt.
Hammond said most of the college’s 475 acres are set aside for conservation and cannot be used to develop the campus, but some smaller plots have attracted interest from potential buyers over the years, including a plot in Manchester near the old Junction 16.
Hammond said there is precedent for the upcoming project, pointing to the Parson’s Hill neighborhood near Route 128 that was created following the sale of Gordon’s land in 1998.
“Having said that, I also understand that our sprawling, wooded campus is a defining aspect of Gordon that is valued by many faculty, staff and students as well as our local community,” Hammond wrote in the email. “All of these factors were carefully considered when exploring this narrowly focused opportunity.”
Rick Sweeney, a spokesman for Gordon College, said the land in question runs behind the Woodland parking lot and is unlikely to be very visible from Grapevine Road. He stressed that the development would be a “multi-step process” with community input along the way.
“Ultimately, we believe this will be of long-term benefit to the town of Wenham, as well as the College,” Sweeney said in an email.
Like many colleges across the country, Gordon College has had to deal with the financial impact of a decline in the number of college-aged students. Hammond said traditional undergraduate enrollment “continues to be a challenge.” Gordon, a Christian liberal arts college, has 1,368 undergraduate students and 436 graduate students. Tuition, room and board for the 2022-23 academic year is $39,190, though the actual cost after financial aid can be as low as $12,115 for students from low-income families, according to the ‘school.
“(We) need to make the best use of resources, including College assets, and prioritize decisions that help our enrollment and budget priorities,” Hammond said.