Trustees put Pine Ridge School on the market (7/23/09)

July 23, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The property and facilities at Pine Ridge School are for sale to schools, nonprofit groups or any other organization that might be interested. The school’s board of trustees chairman, Mitch Roman, said the property has been on the market since the school’s final graduating class exited in June.

Buyers are looking at a $4.5 million price tag, which will also cover debt accrued by the school in recent years. While Roman said he did not know the school’s total debt, Pine Ridge officials said in March it was estimated at approximately $3 million.

The alternative learning school closed after years of financial difficulties grew even worse under the current economic downturn. Since the middle of June, the campus has sat quietly off Route 2 on French Hill. According to Roman, only a few maintenance staff remain to oversee the property.

“It’s pretty much vacant right now,” said Roman, a former student of Pine Ridge from the 1970s.

Roman said there’s been some interest in the property, including from different private schools and organizations. While school officials would love to fill the campus with another school like Pine Ridge, they are looking at any organization at this point, Roman said.

One group almost purchased the property last month, but the deal fell through, Roman said. He would not reveal the organization.

The $4.5 million asking price for the nearly 100-acre property includes the student dormitory, classroom buildings, administrative offices and athletic fields. Roman said the property is not formally advertised anywhere, but has traveled by word-of-mouth through nonprofit organization circles. Roman also added the board of trustees would accept a “best offer” from any interested parties.

Pine Ridge School formed in 1968 as an alternative learning center for middle and high school students with dyslexia. In recent years, the school took on students with other learning and behavioral problems, which officials said steered Pine Ridge from its original mission. It was also around that time that Pine Ridge experienced yearly financial losses, which some blamed on poor administrative oversight and over-staffing.

In 2007, Dana Blackhurst took over as headmaster and attempted to bring Pine Ridge back to its roots by teaching only students with dyslexia and other language-based learning disabilities. Enrollment dropped from nearly 100 students in 2007 to just more than 20 during the past school year. Pine Ridge also experienced deep cuts in staffing.

Despite making changes to the school, Blackhurst announced in the spring that Pine Ridge would close for good.

Roman said the school is unlikely to be resurrected any time soon.

“We’re not going to open as Pine Ridge again,” Roman said.