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New Windsor Brethren center could become boarding school

New Windsor Brethren center could become boarding school

New details about the future life of the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor are coming into focus following an announcement on Monday by the Illinois-based Church of the Brethren, which has owned the campus since the 1940s, that it is working toward a sale of the property to a Chinese education company.

The intended new use of the property? A private boarding school called Springdale Preparatory School.

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Representatives from Church of the Brethren and the Shanghai Yulun Education Group declined to provide further details about the purchase agreement, which was effective as of Nov. 14, but is not expected to be finalized until next year. Likewise, exactly what will happen to Church of the Brethren operations currently housed in the campus, or to tenants such as SERRV international, is not clear.

The Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, for sale for more than a year, may soon belong to a Chinese education company.

In the meantime, the proposed boarding school has a website, wwww.springdaleps.org, and an interim head of school in Johnny Graham, who served in the same capacity in 2015 for Brandon Hall School in Atlanta, Georgia. Graham said he was unable to discuss the relationship between himself, Springdale and Shanghai Yulun Education Group until after a representative of that company had explained the arrangement to the Times. That representative, Charles Chen, told the Times that he could speak following a board meeting on Nov. 21.

What Graham can and is most happy to talk about are the plans for opening Springdale Preparatory School: Applications will open on Dec. 16 and classes are expected to begin on, Monday, Aug. 21, 2017.

We have just over 100 students we anticipate will start in August and we will have rolling admissions so if someone [can't start] in August, they can come later in the school year," Graham said. "That population will likely double by year three and then by year five, we would love to have a perfect breakdown of about 200 or so boarding students and about 200 day students."

For athletics, the school will initial offer soccer, basketball and lacrosse, and later football and hockey if the student body size allows, Graham said.

Springdale Prep will be for grades five through 12, although initial applications will be limited to grades five through 10, according to Graham, as the accreditation process may take a year or two.

"You have to have your doors physically open and serving students before you can even apply for accreditation," Graham said. "Our goal is after our one-year, or two-year process have our 10th graders matriculate and graduate with the accredited diploma. That's why in year one we would not be recruiting juniors or seniors."

And as far as recruitment goes, Graham said, "our students will come from a majority of the U.S., with probably a heavy contingent from the local area and the Chesapeake Bay region. We will have some level of representation of students from a few countries around the world," diversity being something the school is heavily invested in.

New Windsor Brethren center could become boarding school

That said, there will be a hefty discount for families from Carroll County seeking to enroll their children as day students, according to Graham.

"It will be more than a $6,500 savings on the annual tuition, so I am very excited about that," he said. "We will, work with local families to provide an affordable education."

That discount could be quite handy: The tuition for one year for a day student — that is, a non-boarding student who comes and goes each day — is $20,500 for middle school and $21,700 for high school students, according to the school website.

The school's boarding program will offer five-day boarding, where students return home or otherwise leave school for the weekend, and seven-day boarding, where they live at the school full time during the school year. Annual tuition for domestic five-day boarders will be $41,300, seven-day boarders $48,500 and for international students boarding full time, $54,500, according to the website.

Such a student population, Graham contends, could provide quite the financial boost to Carroll County businesses.

"Boarding school students, they like to spend at stores and they like the comforts of home," he said. "They really get out and we will have trips to Five Guys and trips to Target and the local stores. Carroll County is really set up nicely for a boarding a school and we are happy to be here."

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The economic impact is expected to extend to hiring as well, as Graham said he plans to hire about 70 people by the third year of the school, many of whom will be local.

"We're going to need bus drivers, we're going to need cafeteria staff, we're going to need maintenance staff, we're going to need all of these support staff positions," he said, and applications will be made public when the school is ready to hire.

The same goes for hiring teachers, Graham said, the search for which he usually conducts in the spring.

"We will have, I imagine, a good mixture of local Carroll County and then some of our teachers will come from abroad. Some will come from other states in America to really fill our mission," he said. "Not only will our student body to be diverse, but we want the staff as well to model global diversity."

New Windsor Mayor Neal Roop, who did not wish to comment in any detail on the deal while it was still being negotiated, was nevertheless optimistic about the opportunities the new school could present to the town.

"It's all positive if anybody is interested in keeping the facility active and providing employment activities for the residents," he said. "We're staying on top of everything and the realtor is keeping us informed."

The Carroll County Department of Economic Development helped facilitate early meetings between Graham, Shanghai Yulun Education Group and real estate brokers with an eye toward economic gains for the county, according to Director Jack Lyburn.

"The site has historically been used as an educational institution and this use complements the Town of New Windsor perfectly," Lyburn said. "We look forward to assisting with any hiring needs that the school will have and recognize the positive impact that the school's hiring and the students will have on the town and county."

Historically speaking, the Springdale Preparatory School would be a return to form for the Brethren Service Center Campus. It was initially founded as the Catholic Calvert College in the mid-19th century and was later taken over and renamed New Windsor College by the Presbyterian Church in the 1870s, although the exact dates differ depending on if you take the account on the Town of New Windsor website, or that on wwww.lostcolleges.com — operated by Paul Batesel, a professor emeritus of English at Mayville State University in North Dakota with a hobby interest in closed colleges — as canon.

The school was renamed Blue Ridge College in 1912 and operated until closing in 1943, according to Batesel's website.

The Church of the Brethren purchased the property in 1944, initially for use in for the Church's World War II relief efforts, but that mission evolved into a disaster relief role in the post-war world, shipping goods on behalf of partner organizations such as Lutheran World Relief.

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Several Church of the Brethren operations had been headquartered at the New Windsor location until at least late 2014, when the church announced its plans to try and sell the facilities, including Brethren Disaster Ministries, Material Resources and Children's Disaster Services. At that time, November, 2014, Church of the Brethren Treasurer and Executive Director of Organization Resources LeAnn Harnist told the that these operations would continue to operate in new locations, perhaps in the same region.

No details about those operations or their new locations were made available by church representatives following Monday's news release.

Also unclear is what will happen to the other longtime tenant of the campus, SERRV International, which has operated a gift shop there since the 1940s as well.

"The warehouse has not been sold and is not going to be sold, that's where our fulfillment center operates so we have no plans to make any changes in that. We plan to lease that form the Church of the Brethren for as long as we can," said Bob Chase, CEO and president of SERRV. "We have been talking to the company that is going to buy the campus about whether we can continue to operate there and that conversation is kind of ongoing because it has to do with how quickly they will develop the property and what steps they need to take to utilize the building and how it will fit in with our needs."

Chase said that while SERRV would prefer to stay in New Windsor, the nonprofit is considering relocating its offices and gift shop to somewhere in Westminster.

They can take their time, as far Graham is concerned.

"What I can say is that SERRV as an organization will have some of its own decisions to make, but I am open to a very smooth and seamless transition, so if that means they stay for a longer period of time, or they decide to leave, ultimately a lot of that will up to that organization," he said. "I am very flexible and open to all possibilities."

Graham hopes to meet more people in Carroll soon, and said that Springdale will host some sort of open house in the spring. In the meantime, anyone with questions about the school can call Graham at 855-405-8600, while anyone interested in enrolling a student in the school should send email to admissions@springdaleps.org.

410-857-3317

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