Community can take active role as stewards, guardians of Potash Hill campus

On Nov. 5, I attended an informational meeting at the Marlboro Community Center run by Brian Mooney, director of Potash Hill, the subsidiary of Marlboro Music Festival in charge of renting out the campus.

I was very impressed by his understanding of the values held by various stakeholder groups that have overlapping histories and are affected by what will happen there: alumni and others who cared about the college, the music festival, and the town, region, staff, etc.

I see in him strengths that, as I know from my experience fighting to save institutions in transition, are critical: vision, willingness to experiment, an understanding of the organization, and most importantly, “fire in the belly.”

Daniel Toomey writes in the article “Believing It In: Robert Frost, Walter Hendricks, and the Creation of Marlboro College” that Frost believed that “worthy ends are met through the power of belief, and embracing risk is a necessary step in achieving those ends.”

I have also learned that it's not enough to throw up our hands and say we don't have influence over the institutions we care about. We need to take an active role as stewards and guardians.

To this end, I believe the Marlboro Selectboard should review its role in the previous campus sale and consider banning its officials from signing nondisclosure agreements in the future. (See Adrian Segar's blog post for more on NDAs and the Seth Andrew debacle.)

Meanwhile, Potash Hill has a limited time to find tenants because they need to break even on the $1.5 million annual cost of maintaining the campus year-round.

It would be a little easier to rent out space if food service were on campus year-round, but that is hard to get started until the campus has more tenants. I wonder if a small culinary program or small-scale food producer would jump at the chance for use of the kitchen, providing lunch service, and perhaps the manager could even live on campus?

Potash Hill needs to find a mix of tenants that fit with its values, such as arts, preservation, education, and creativity. The community has the opportunity, especially now, to increase the chance that the campus will become financially sustainable and meet those shared values.

If you know of organizations that would be good tenants, please encourage them to consider the campus and also contact Potash Hill to let them know your idea.

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