The properties, which are geographically contiguous to the school's current campus of approximately 30 acres and border its present northern boundary, are under contract. Both the school, and the current owners of the property - the Olcott and Morgan families - are committed to making the sale go forward, said Mark Tashjian, Burr and Burton's headmaster, on Wednesday.
"We bought it recognizing that they're not making anymore land," Tashjian said. "When the perfect puzzle piece comes up to re-shape the campus, then you buy it. For the long term, we needed this property for us to be able to consider the future of the school in as broad a way as possible." A closing of the property sale is expected later this summer. That will allow the Morgan and Olcott families to enjoy a final summer in their residences, according to a separate statement released Wednesday by Burr and Burton.
The property is north of the school's current property line and is adjacent to the existing buildings there; the Rowland Center, the Riley Center for the Arts and the school's gym. The new acquisition extends westward up the eastern side of the range of hills north of Mount Equinox. Two existing property parcels - about 2.16 acres owned by the Morgan family and an additional 17.8 acres owned by the Olcotts, make up the new acquisition. The Olcott parcel includes a pond and an Adirondack-style summer lodge , known as Birchbrook, which was designed and built in 1929 by Shirley Olcott, was the Dean of Princeton University's School of Architecture. The smaller Morgan parcel comes with a four-season cottage, according to the statement released by the school on Wednesday.
The property is virtually hidden from view from all main roads in the area.
The property has been owned for several generations and was much loved, said Anne Battle, a co-owner and granddaughter of Shirley Olcott.
"Our grandfather, who designed and built the Birchbrook house and was an educator himself, would be delighted to see the land used to support education and young people in this community," Battle stated in an e-mail.
The price Burr and Burton will pay to acquire the land was not disclosed. Tashjian said it was a "fair" price, based roughly on current assessed values of the property. A phone call to the Village's office seeking the assessed values of the property was not placed until after the village office closed at noon. The purchase price, and whatever investment and development that may follow, will be done through private fund-raising efforts, said Seth Bongartz, the chairman of the school's board of trustees, in the statement released Wednesday.
"The possibilities are simply endless," Bongartz stated. "As we consider the future, we want to be sensitive to the history of the land and the Birchbrook house, the natural environment, our neighbors, and the traditions and history of Burr and Burton Academy."
The school has no particular plans for how it might use the property immediately. What it does is give school trustees and administrators much more flexibility on how they might reconfigure the campus or add new buildings if such moves were deemed wise at some point in the future, Tashjian said.
"It gives us a way to examine the property as a 50-acre whole," he said. "Fifty acres gives us far more flexibility and allows us to do what is best for the school or the community."
Among the long term needs of the school is more indoor athletic space and enhanced performing arts space. But the school of the future may have very different space needs than the present, Tashjian said.
Other potential purposes could include using it as a nature preserve, faculty or administrative offices, which would be largely screened from view and not visible, he said.
"We're not going to turn it into a parking lot," Tashjian said jokingly, "They (the Olcotts and Morgans) cared about what happened next - so from their standpoint I think they wanted to see some sense that the legacy of the properties would continue into the future."