Metro

Theological school reaches agreement to sell Newton campus

Andover Newton Theological School
Wilson Chapel at Andover Newton Theological School in Newton Centre.

Andover Newton Theological School announced Friday that a foundation with “deep ties to the region” has purchased its historic hilltop campus in Newton Centre and plans to maintain the property’s educational use.

“The foundation prefers that its name and identity not be disclosed until the transaction is completed but has asked us to assure the community that the campus is not being sold to a real estate developer,” the Rev. Martin B. Copenhaver, Andover Newton’s president, said in a statement.

Established more than two centuries ago as the nation’s first seminary, the school finalized a partnership with Yale University this spring and plans to relocate to New Haven, Conn., in 2018.

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The prospective redevelopment of the quiet 20-acre campus had raised concerns among nearby residents. But Copenhaver said the foundation, while not prepared to disclose its full plans for the property, has a “longstanding commitment to education.”

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Seminary leaders had previously said the school would consider density and traffic concerns in choosing a buyer.

The property has an assessed value of more than $43 million, according to city records. The school did not reveal the price of the sale, saying it was bound by a confidentiality agreement with the foundation.

Victoria Danberg, a city councilor who represents Newton Centre, said she had originally hoped low-income housing would be built at the property, a short walk from the Newton Centre MBTA station, but said the city would also support an educational use there.

“We look very much forward to knowing what the foundation or institute is, and we’ll be happy to work with them in any way we can to make things work out for both the institute and the neighborhood,” Danberg said.

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Retaining the natural setting around the campus is another priority, Danberg said.

“A major goal has been to preserve the green, from the open space going up the hill from Newton Centre to Andover Newton itself,” she said.

Richard Blazar, a city councilor who also represents Newton Centre, said many residents have echoed this sentiment, fearing the property would be bulldozed.

“Keeping it for education, that’s great news,” he said. “We’ve been trying to find out for months and months what the heck’s going on, and whether it’d be bought by a developer and turned into townhouses, so I wonder who it is.”

The seminary has seen its enrollment decline for more than a decade. This is the school’s final academic year in Newton, although it will continue to offer classes in the Boston area until 2018. The seminary will then become a “school within a school” on the Yale campus known as “Andover Newton at Yale.”

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The seminary plans to scale down its operations and offer fewer programs to fewer students, who will also take classes with Yale professors. Under the new model, the school will primarily focus on preparing students for the Christian and Unitarian Universalist ministry “in lieu of the broad range of programs and options available today,” according to a letter sent to students, faculty, and alumni in November.

“We are confident this foundation will carry on the tradition of educational excellence that has been set here and look forward to working with it, with the community, the city and our neighbors to ensure a seamless transition,” Copenhaver said Friday. “Of course, this is a bittersweet announcement to make: bitter because we are leaving our beloved campus, yet sweet because of the ways we now know the campus will be used and loved into the future.”

Allison Pohle can be reached at allisonpohle@gmail.com.