Northfield residents respond to announcement

 

Greenfield Recorder 09/22/2012, Page A01

By DAVID RAINVILLE

Recorder Staff

NORTHFIELD — When residents of this small town heard that a 5,000-student college could be their new neighbor, some were thrilled, some concerned and others were outraged.

But Friday’s news that Grand Canyon University was indeed chosen to receive the former Northfield Mount Hermon School campus was met with less outcry. In fact, cheers rose to the ceiling of Sage Chapel when GCU was announced as the recipient at a special event.

“I think it’s exactly what the town needed,” said Mark Fortier, chief of Northfield’s Emergency Medical Services and a Mount Hermon Station Road resident. “It’s a great opportunity for the community and the region. I’m excited about the possibilities for the future.”

Many in town agree with Fortier. They see economic development coming on the heels of the college, serving as a shot in the arm to existing businesses, and attracting new ones as well.

“It’s going to have a ripple effect,” said resident Jason Platek, of West Northfield Road. “It will fill the campus with vibrant activity. People will buy homes, and housing values will stay steady. It will bring students and parents to town. They’ll stay at our bed and breakfasts, shop at the IGA and Mim’s Market, and eat at Rooster’s Bistro. And it will solidify our tax base.”

In the hands of NMH, the campus brought no tax revenue to town. Since it’s been privately owned, it’s netted an annual $400,000 in property taxes. In the hands of the for-profit GCU, that revenue is expected to grow, although legally the campus will be owned by a non-profit affiliate.

“This is an excellent opportunity for Northfield, and the whole region,” said state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru. “There will be new jobs, and academic programs, and sports. Sports always get people excited.”

“We have to make sure the town and the college work together, though,” he cautioned. “It’s important to keep the good parts of the county and the region, and to make sure they’re not changed by a big college coming in.”

The college envisioned would be about the size of Westfield State University or twice the size of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams.

“This can have a huge economical impact, but the social impact is scary,” said Bill McGee of Main Street. “My wife and I moved here 30 years ago, for what Northfield is now. I’m not happy about some of the changes that could be coming.”

One of his concerns is an increased traffic load on the two-lane Main Street. He’s not alone in that.

“Efforts need to be made to reduce traffic on Main Street,” said Nathan Tufts of Mount Hermon Station Road. “But I’m glad to see the contribution it will make to the Northfield economy. It can work, but the town needs to prepare itself.”

Northfield’s officials will need to prime themselves for the coming of the Christian college. “Our town government needs to do its homework and research,” said Platek. “There’s no more waiting to see who gets the campus. We need to educate our boards and committees, so they can stay up to speed on the transition.”

“It worries me that the town government seems so dysfunctional,” said Ruth Potee of Main Street. “A lot needs to be done in the town’s best interests, and I’m not sure we have the best people in town government to get it done.”

A lawsuit has been filed against the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals, alleging that it makes decisions and issues permits without following proper procedure. And lately, the Selectboard’s meetings have been uncivil, to say the least, with voices being raised and subjects going off track. However, the Selectboard’s last meeting gave a hope to some residents, as the town’s governing board conducted its business without anyone yelling, after a recent Recorder article shed light on the board’s dysfunction.