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A member of the Marlboro Music community enjoys a solitary moment on the Potash Hill campus in 2019.

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Marlboro Music agrees to buy its home on Potash Hill

Legal dispute of current ownership will be resolved under terms of purchase-and-sale agreement

MARLBORO—Marlboro Music has operated a world-renowned summer residency for up-and-coming chamber musicians on the campus of the former Marlboro College on Potash Hill for 70 years — a location that leaders of the nonprofit say that it will soon own.

On July 23, Marlboro Music announced that it had reached a purchase agreement with the two organizations currently laying claim to the campus, Democracy Builders Fund, Inc. and Type 1 Civilization Marlboro Campus LLC — one that wraps up the ownership dispute surrounding the property.

“Potash Hill has been our only home,” said Philip Maneval, manager of Marlboro Music. “The beauty, privacy, and intimacy of the setting are integral to the in-depth exchange of ideas and the nurturing family of musicians who gather on campus each summer. There is a wonderful, idealistic synergy here between music, nature, and community.”

According to an announcement on Marlboro Music’s website, the three organizations are obtaining the final approvals before transferring the property.

Maneval wouldn’t speculate on when the negotiations would wrap up.

“While there are a number of legal and regulatory issues still to address and to finalize, the first and most important step was to reach this binding agreement among the parties,” Maneval said. “We are working to obtain the approvals necessary to conclude the transaction.”

“While we expect a relatively swift and smooth resolution, we just cannot speculate on a precise timeline,” he said.

A year of tumult

In 2020, Democracy Builders Fund purchased the 500-acre campus from Marlboro College as part of the college’s merger with Emerson College in Boston.

The organization was launching Degrees of Freedom, a secondary degree program designed to support historically marginalized students.

Less than a year later, Democracy Builders’ founder, Seth Andrew, announced that the organization was selling the campus to Type I, a corporate entity controlled by Adrian Stein, a businessperson based in Canada.

Democracy Builders would remain on the campus after the sale as a tenant, Andrew said at the time.

A deed reflecting the sale was filed with the Marlboro Town Clerk’s office.

By February, the deal had fallen through, according to Andrew, who filed a second series of property transfers returning ownership to Democracy Builders Fund.

Stein, however, disputed Andrew’s account, saying the property was well and truly his.

Amid the dispute, Andrew was arrested in April on several federal charges surrounding alleged theft of money from two charter schools that he founded. He has pleaded innocent and is now under court order to remain in Rhode Island, where he now lives.

Both Democracy Builders Fund and Degrees of Freedom distanced themselves from Andrew after the arrest.

Who gets the rent?

Meanwhile, Marlboro Music, which holds a 99-year lease to use the property, was expected to pay rent to use the campus for the 2021 festival.

But with the ownership in dispute, this spring, Marlboro Music filed suit with the Windham Superior Court to force a resolution to the impasse.

According to Maneval, Marlboro Music expects the new agreement will solve the questions set out in the organization’s court case.

“We expect that this agreement will be approved and blessed by the court, as it resolves the dispute between Democracy Builders and Type 1, and, of course, it settles once and for all the question of who is the rightful owner of the property,” he said.

There are no plans for either Democracy Builders or Type 1 to use the campus in the future, according to Maneval.

“We remain open to all possibilities, and we enjoy a positive relationship with the leadership of both organizations,” he added.

A place to pursue art in depth

Marlboro Music is devoted to the advanced study of chamber music and holds a festival series every summer on campus. Musicians and mentors from around the world live and practice for 10 weeks.

“It is a retreat for younger and more experienced musicians to pursue their art in great depth, with abundant time and in an environment free of the limitations and financial pressures of their regular professional lives,” Maneval said.

“Here, artists of diverse ages, nationalities, and perspectives come together to work, learn, play, collaborate, and live with one another,” he continued. “They have considerable artistic freedom and the conditions to pursue whatever pathways open up to them, and they are part of a nurturing, closely knit family atmosphere.”

Marlboro Music has also invested in the campus.

According to its website, Marlboro Music has spent more than $15 million on new facilities. These include housing for its senior musicians, a new residence hall, and the Jerome and Celia Bertin Reich Building. The latter houses chamber music rehearsal studios, a music library, and other spaces for the musicians, staff, and community members.

“Our purchase of the campus protects our long-term stability and future here and ensures that we will continue to benefit from the considerable investments we have made in the campus and adjoining properties,” Maneval said.

Maneval said that purchasing the property represents a massive step for Marlboro Music.

“Certainly, it also creates important new challenges, costs, and responsibilities for our organization moving forward,” he said. “We will need to raise the funds necessary for annual maintenance, capital improvements, and land conservation, and we will be seeking grants and contributions for these purposes.”

One of the opportunities and challenges for Marlboro Music will be how to use the campus the rest of the year.

“Contributed support will also be very helpful as we consider uses of the campus from September through May each year. There is no doubt that the property has enormous potential for other worthy cultural, educational, and community uses,” he added.

Maneval added that Marlboro Music’s governing board is responsible for deciding the off-season use of the campus.

“To assist our board in that effort, we need to take the time to study and assess the options, to gather input and suggestions from all interested parties, including town residents, and to evaluate our financial needs and opportunities,” he said.

“We want to consider off-season uses that are compatible not only with our summer program, but with our values, ideals, and aspirations,” Maneval added.

Deep connections

The deep connection many have to the campus on Potash Hill — either through Marlboro College or the Music Festival — has not been lost on those involved with Marlboro Music.

“We are very touched by the outpouring of enthusiasm and support we have received from our many friends here in Marlboro, and throughout the world, in response to our announcement of this purchase agreement,” he said.

“We understand and appreciate just how much this place means to so many people who have enjoyed our performances, who have treasured memories of living and learning here, and who have felt the sense of timelessness and belonging that the property elicits in so many,” Maneval continued.

“We take very seriously our responsibility for being good stewards of the land, respectful of its rich history and nurturing of its potential for the future,” he said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #623 (Wednesday, July 28, 2021). This story appeared on page A1.

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