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January 3, 2013

Hobby Lobby gives school to charity

BOSTON — The Oklahoma company that tried and failed to give away a former prep school campus in Massachusetts has donated the property to a Christian foundation, which will continue looking for a permanent owner.

The Hobby Lobby craft store chain, founded and owned by the Green family, on Wednesday announced the donation to the National Christian Foundation, effective Dec. 28.

The announcement came two months after the Greens’ extensive efforts to give away the 217-acre campus in Northfield for free suffered a huge setback when the recipient backed out. The company then turned to the Georgia-based foundation, which has handled donated property from the company previously.

“We had hoped to be able to find a qualified recipient of this property ourselves and made great efforts to do so,” said Les Miller, a real estate analyst for Hobby Lobby. “When we were unable, we decided to enlist the help of NCF. ... We are confident they will be able to find a long-term owner for this property.”

But the new owner may not get the campus for free. Aimee Minnich, president of the foundation’s Heartland office in Kansas, said the best use of the campus “may include donation, sale, or some combination of those two.”

The foundation’s standards for an owner also aren’t yet as explicit as was with the Greens, who were seeking to find one owner with orthodox Christian beliefs who was committed to honoring the legacy of the prep school’s founder, 19th century evangelist D.L. Moody.

Minnich said Wednesday that the foundation is looking “for an end user that fits the history and culture of this beautiful campus.”

Northfield Town Administrator Tom Hutcheson said the community is eager to welcome a new owner at the campus, which has been vacant since 2005, when the Northfield Mount Hermon prep school moved out to shed costs and consolidate at a nearby campus.

“It’s been vacant for quite a while, too long, really, for the town to be comfortable,” Hutcheson said. “I think that there aren’t many people who would object to some group which fitted the campus coming in.”

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