It’s not often that 10 acres of prime real estate in Brookline go on the market. But that’s what will happen when Newbury College closes next spring.
That already has people wondering what will take the college’s place on Fisher Hill.
Questions about the future of the campus — a collection of grand old homes and mid-century college buildings — began swirling within hours of Friday’s news that the liberal arts college of about 700 students will shut its doors after the spring semester.
“People are intrigued by the possibilities,” said Neil Wishinksy, chair of the Brookline Board of Selectmen. “But it’s still very early.”
A spokesman for Newbury College said that the school’s administration has made no decisions on what to do with the real estate, but that it is collecting “contact information and proposed purposes” from interested parties, including developers, real estate brokers, and other schools.
The college owns six properties — with eight buildings and several parking lots — on either side of Fisher Avenue, according to the Brookline assessor’s office, with an assessed value of just under $38 million. It’s about 10 acres in all, in a neighborhood where single-family homes routinely fetch $2 million or more. It’s also close to Cleveland Circle and the MBTA’s Green Line.
That brings a lot of potential, say developers and other real estate experts, but also complications.
“It’s going to be tough to find the right mix in that community,” said Ted Tye, managing partner at Newton-based National Development, which recently built a hotel and senior apartments up the street at Cleveland Circle. “It’s got to be either some form of housing, or an institutional or educational use that’s similar to what’s there now.”
Selling it for a large-scale redevelopment — office buildings, for instance — would be lucrative for the university but seems unlikely given the neighborhood’s largely single-family zoning. Two sizable condo developments — one with 24 units of affordable housing on the site of an old reservoir — have been built in Fisher Hill in recent years, though even those would probably require rezoning. Because of Newbury College’s nonprofit status, such a sale may also need approval from Attorney General Maura Healey’s office.
An easier option, experts say, may be to sell the property to another university, which might have a need for Newbury’s classroom buildings, administrative space, and the student center, with its 136-room dorm.
That’s what Mount Ida College did when it closed earlier this year. The school sold its 74-acre campus in Newton to the University of Massachusetts Amherst for $75 million. Wheelock College brought its Longwood campus with it when it merged with Boston University this year. Indeed, Newbury College bought the Fisher Hill campus from Cardinal Cushing College — a Catholic women’s school that closed in 1972 — and moved there from the Back Bay.
But it was not immediately clear who such a buyer might be for Newbury.
Boston College, which sits barely a mile away, spent $20 million in 2016 to buy 24 acres and a synagogue that was closing on Hammond Pond Parkway in Newton. BC now uses the synagogue for student performance space and may move some offices there, but spokesman Jack Dunn said the college “is not interested” in Newbury’s campus.
Other schools, further afield, may have an interest, said Robert Brown, managing director of the Boston office of architecture firm Perkins + Will. Urban schools might see it as a place to grow from their crowded downtown campuses, while suburban schools may view it as a toehold closer to the city. And schools, or large companies, all over the region might see Newbury as a place to come do their thinking.
“The very first thing that came into my mind was corporate retreat center,” Brown said. “Schools are getting into executive training and need classroom space and housing and places to hold convocations.”
Another possibility could be the Town of Brookline taking it over.
Town officials have spent years trying to find sites for a ninth elementary school to ease overcrowding, an effort that led to a showdown with Pine Manor College in 2017, when Brookline threatened to take the campus by eminent domain.
Newbury College could be a possible site, though Wishinksy noted that Fisher Hill already has a grade school just a few blocks away. The town has other needs, he said, which Newbury’s land might help fill. But, he said, it’s unlikely Brookline will engage in a bidding war if developers with deep pockets come calling.
“It’s not like we can just swoop in and buy the place,” he said. “We have to face our own fiscal realities. On the other hand, if this property does become available, how often does 10 acres in a town such as Brookline come on the market? Not in my lifetime.”
Tim Logan can be reached at email@example.com.