Sweet Briar College may be ignoring a major asset that could be used to prevent the school from closing – its campus.
On Monday, a Virginia County attorney filed a lawsuit against Sweet Briar on behalf of the state that could prevent the college from closing after the current semester ends, as administrators announced last month.
As part of the exhibits in support of the Commonwealth lawsuit, Amherst County lawyer Ellen Bowyer presented statements from two higher education experts, John W. Gibb and General Charles C. Krulak, who both pointed out how Sweet Briar could use her own campus to save herself.
Even though Sweet Briar’s 27-acre campus is a historic district, the remaining thousands of acres are “of extraordinary value as a potential income-generating asset,” according to Gibb, who is Managing Director of a higher education and real estate finance company and former Chairman of the Wilson College Board of Trustees.
“The possibility of creating a planned residential and / or commercial community on property owned by Sweet Briar College is important and could result in substantial sums for the College. I strongly recommend that the Saving Sweet Briar board of directors consider a use plan and competitive bidding process for land development for financial investment, ”Gibb writes.
Sweet Briar’s land “could be used for income from rental contracts,” according to Krulak, former commander of the United States Marine Corps and current president of Birmingham-Southern College.
In fact, Krulak pointed out that his college had recently considered creating a continuing care center for seniors on the campus. This “income-generating business,” he says, “illustrates the kind of creative thinking that educational institutions should engage in while reorganizing their model to respond to this new era.”
Additionally, this change could do more for Sweet Briar’s long-term survival than just providing a source of income. According to Gibb, monetizing the Sweet Briar campus “would have the added benefit of creating an increased population density near the college, which could only have a positive impact on enrollment trends in the future.”
Sweet Briar College released the following statement regarding the lawsuit on Tuesday:
Sweet Briar College has the utmost respect for the Amherst County Attorney’s Office; however, the allegations made in the county attorney’s complaint violate well-established Virginia law, as expressed by both the General Assembly and the Virginia Supreme Court. Sweet Briar’s attorney engaged in an open dialogue with the county attorney before the lawsuit was filed, and although the case is currently pending, Sweet Briar will remain receptive to further communication with the county attorney on all questions as the litigation progresses.