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BU’s Outdoor Education Campus to Close

New Hampshire Sargent Center to end programs in August

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sargent_center_h.jpg

Northern Lodge at Sargent Center.

The Sargent Center for Outdoor Education (SCOE), Boston University’s environmental education and retreat center in Hancock, N.H., will close in August because of budgetary concerns, BU officials have announced.

The cost of maintaining the center, which was acquired by the University in 1932 and is currently run by Metropolitan College, is not viable at a time of economic crisis, says MET Dean Jay Halfond. The University is looking to balance its fiscal year 2010 budget, which begins on July 1, 2009, and currently has a $10 million gap.

“This is not a matter of performance,” Halfond says. “Many BU students have benefited by the center’s efforts, and it is a legacy that will not be forgotten. It was simply unsustainable because of the cost of maintaining 700 acres of land in New Hampshire.”

Founded to host the teacher training program for Sargent College, the SCOE — then known as Sargent Camp — was used to help students master swimming and other sports they would be required to know as teachers. Early students slept in tents and bathed in Halfmoon Pond; later, the center’s founder, Dudley Allen Sargent, added a lodge and cabins.

Today, Sargent Center has room for 200 overnight guests in its cabins, dormitories, and canvas tent “yurt villages.” It has functioned as an education and retreat space for BU’s Schools of Management and Education, as well as for the former Corporate Education Center. Since coming under MET’s purview, it has hosted the Residence Life and Orientation and Off-Campus Services offices, the Boston University Scholars, participants in the Upward Bound program, and the Common Ground orientation course held during the summer for new students.

The SCOE also offers an environmental education program for middle school students around the region, hosting approximately 3,000 schoolchildren each year. Corporate retreats have drawn about 4,000 people annually, and the summer outdoor Adventure Camp brings in an average of 600 children and teens ages 10 through 17. Other local universities, including Boston College, Harvard, Tufts, and Northeastern, have held retreats at the facility.

The center also serves as a research base for many BU faculty, particularly in geography and environment and other natural sciences. Thomas Kunz, a professor of biology in the College of Arts and Sciences and the director of the Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology, has been conducting bat-focused research at Sargent Center for nearly four decades.

Kunz says the center has been “an important facility for programs focused on research, environmental education, and outreach,” and that the decision will affect both his research and the teaching methods he uses to introduce students to topics such as biodiversity and climate change.

The facility, with 22 miles of cross-country skiing and hiking trails that are open to the public, has 15 permanent employees and adds 18 to 50 seasonal workers at various times of year.

All programs booked through August 31, 2009, including this summer’s Adventure Camp, will take place as usual, according to Robert Rubendall, the center’s director.

“We intend to run all programs and honor all commitments,” he says.

Jessica Ullian can be reached at jullian@bu.edu.

24 Comments

24 Comments on BU’s Outdoor Education Campus to Close

  • Laura De Veau (CGS '87, COM '89, SED '95) on 01.28.2009 at 6:25 am

    Very sad news

    Sargent Center is not only a place for outdoor education – it is a home for many staff members and their families. They live there, tend to the grounds, maintain the buildings and create a “home” for campers and clients who visit there.

    Over my lifetime, I have gone to the center many, many times. My first visit was in 1987 for BU RA training. It changed the way I looked at myself and how I contribute to a team. It was from that point forward that I had a romantic notion in my head that despite being a “city kid” I could live at this camp and be a part of the staff. While that fantasy never came to fruition, I have brought my own RAs and student leaders to Sargent Center (AKA Sargent Camp) so that they could experience the quality programs first hand. Student affairs professionals around New England know about Sargent Center and agree that they are the best of the best.

    Without exception, every single group of students that I brought to the center had an overwhelmingly positive experience. While experiential education in the outdoors is not everyone’s cup of tea, the staff made it special for each individual and would never treat their groups as, well, groups.

    Under the current leadership, I have been asked to participate as a facilitator for youth groups. I took this invitation as one of my most proud professional accomplishments. Due largely to the fact that I love the staff, love the camp and love Boston University.

    God bless the people of Sargent Center. They are some of the most wonderful employees and community members that Boston University has ever had. We will regret this decision some day, perhaps as Brandeis will regret closing the Rose Museum, and other institutions for making the decisions that they are forced to make in this tough economic time.

    To all who have visited Sargent Center, please show your support in some personal way.

  • Anonymous on 01.28.2009 at 8:26 am

    As someone who has both participated and worked at the Center, I was absolutely crushed by the decision to close SCOE. This stems not only from my personal connections with the staff and participants of Sargent, but because this entity was something uniquely “BU”. Very few urban campuses also offer this component to their students to truly become well-rounded.
    The experiential education component of Sargent Center helps participants (and staff!) the ability to learn more on those 700 acres than most students will learn in any classroom on the urban campus.
    It is hard to believe that a university that seeks to provide exceptional standards in education would want to cut out a main source of these stellar educational resources.
    I hope naively that BU rethinks its decision; however, if that is impossible, I hope there are interested parties out there that will be able to allow Sargent Center to continue operations at the same high-level it has throughout the years.

  • Anonymous on 01.28.2009 at 8:41 am

    As someone who has both participated and worked at the Center, I was absolutely crushed by the decision to close SCOE. This stems not only from my personal connections with the staff and participants of Sargent, but because this entity was something uniquely “BU”. Very few urban campuses also offer this component to their students to truly become well-rounded.
    The experiential education component of Sargent Center helps participants (and staff!) the ability to learn more on those 700 acres than most students will learn in any classroom on the urban campus.
    It is hard to believe that a university that seeks to provide exceptional standards in education would want to cut out a main source of these stellar educational resources.
    I hope naively that BU rethinks its decision; however, if that is impossible, I hope there are interested parties out there that will be able to allow Sargent Center to continue operations at the same high-level it has throughout the years.

  • Anonymous on 01.28.2009 at 8:47 am

    Camp efforts

    We have efforts to keep the camp running, even if it comes down to parting with BU. The camp is a great learning experience for anything, whether it be getting over a fear of heights, or just making some good friends from all around. I hope we do get to keep this camp open, because it is amazing.

  • Really? on 01.28.2009 at 8:51 am

    This is ridiculous. Sargent Center is one of the best places to truly experience that shift from high school into college. It teaches trust, ownership, self-esteem and most importantly urges its students to think. I wish i had the money to provide for this camp to remain open. My only regret is that not all the BU students were able to send a weekend or even a day at this wonderful Camp. I definitely hope to have one final visit before it shuts down. :(

  • Dave Rini on 01.28.2009 at 9:10 am

    If there is any conceivable plan that would allow Sargent to stay open, including multiple ownership, joint-university management, or privatization, we should investigate it. The resources of the center and the staff are so important to providing self-awareness, leadership training, and physical learning that it would significantly hurt BU to lose it.

  • Anonymous on 01.28.2009 at 9:13 am

    shocking

    What is the BU thinking? What’s next BUTI?

  • Anonymous on 01.28.2009 at 11:24 am

    This decision highlights the city-centric view of Boston University in a time dominated by ecological and environmental awareness. SHAMEFUL to rob future students and other members of the community from this unique and benefician learning experience.

  • AC Staff Member on 01.28.2009 at 11:34 am

    Sargent Center has been a part of my life for many years now both as a camper and then as a staff member. Becoming a staff member was one of the best things I’ve ever done, a truly rewarding experience which I will never forget. Every effort should be made to keep SC open! It does not deserve slowly drift into obscurity and disrepair.

  • Alum on 01.28.2009 at 11:35 am

    Priorities

    Sargent Center is a unique facet of BU that is being thrown under the bus for some misguided priorities. While I understand the realities of a budget crunch, I think it’s hard to underestimate the breadth of the effect, and more than that, the wide swath of people from all backgrounds, who have benefitted from their time there. The immediate hypocrisy of BU’s “diversity” rhetoric is obvious looking at the student body and their collective attitudes, but this is a much deeper dig at reducing the diversity of experience, environment, and opportunities that BU offers. I hope the camp continues in the spirit of it’s past and that it is still a boon to the area. BU was willing to swallow their pride and pony up for Goldin, but they can’t back a Center that clearly affects multiple communities? Different economic times, sure, but same poor judgement.

  • Anonymous on 01.28.2009 at 1:06 pm

    45 years of experiences @ Sargent Camp

    The article doesn’t mention how much money will be saved by closing this unique setting for learning. I doubt it will be very substantial compared to the benefits earned by those of us who had powerful experiences there. I first went to Sargent Camp as a faculty “brat” on a weekend in the winter and a week each summer. The family camp opportunities were an annual chance to learn skills in a woodland setting away from the Boston area. Later, my entire family was involved in the summer outdoor camp program when I was a teenager. Prior to the days of Outward Bound we were mountain climbing and canoeing to the edge of our physical limits and learning to function in diverse groups. In the 70s I was an intern and then staff member for the school programs and worked with Project Adventure with hundreds of students and teachers. I would venture that the testimonials of the thousands of students whose lives have been impacted by their experiences at the Sargent Camp setting would fill a newspaper page if that were an option. What a strange decision in these times of trying to help young people become the strongest contributors to our society that they can.

  • Anonymous on 01.28.2009 at 1:59 pm

    Tragedy

    Speaking for my friends and I, who have been going to the camp program for 5 years, and will be going this year as well, we are crushed by this news. SCOE is our home away from home, where we learned not only lessons about the enviornment and surviving in the wilderness, but we also learned about ourselves and forged ties with friends who will probably be life-long. Everyone who works there, goes there, or has been there will severly miss this facility, it’s been an integral part of our lives and we’ll never forget our experiences there.

  • Anonymous on 01.28.2009 at 3:23 pm

    Sargent Center has been a part of my life for almost as long as I can remember. some of the best memories I still carry with me today have taken place there. I attended Adventure camp and a sports camp there for six years of my childhood, and loved every minute of it. I believe it is one the most valuable and exciting learning opportunities that BU offers, and to shut it down is absolutely ridiculous. Between the heritage and the people that work there, the camp is a historical landmark for outdoor education. It has been such a great resource as a team-building activity center for BU for so many years, so why should we get rid of something that so many have enjoyed???

  • Anonymous on 01.28.2009 at 4:11 pm

    Another Bad Decision for the University and Science

    It is clear that our new president, an engineer by training, has no “feel” for the environment, no “feel” for the nature of true, out-in-the-natural-world science, and no sense when it comes to what should matter for an educational institution. BU is not a glorified technical school as MIT is. It is a university that exists to provide students with an educational experience, not to train them in a technical profession. First we have him layoff/dismiss 6 CGS science faculty for what he described as an enrollment deficit (in actuality CGS had only ~70 fewer freshman this year, so how does 70 fewer students translate into 6 fewer faculty positions when the student to faculty ratio at CGS is 100:1 for science?). In actuality the faculty layoff was the result of the administration agreeing to cut 1 full year of science from the curriculum (because, geez, science isn’t that important in today’s world and students don’t really like it all that much). Now he cuts out a major center that has supported environmental awareness for all levels of children and adults (from youngesters to older faculty) and has supported environmental research. What’s next? Are we going to get rid of that fuzzy science called biology and only keep the higihly technical molecular and chemistry folks around? Brown is starting to make me long for John Silber’s return–at least Silber understood the mission of a university even if he was a dictator.

  • Anonymous on 01.28.2009 at 4:23 pm

    A GREAT LOSS

    This idea is a great loss. And the great loss goes to the kids and to the people it served. I worked there as a teaching intern and as a school program assistant. I would not be where I am today if it was not for that place. Building education, giving back, preserving the land and the friends and what I consider family I have gained from working there. It is a sad day for OEE. So now how are the children suppose to have that once in a lifetime chance? Where are the children going to get out of the classroom and get into the dirt! Budget cuts? So what is going to be done with beautiful place? We use to have a mock town meeting with the kids about Sargent Camp being sold. I would hate to think that was all to real. How are they saving money? Is closing that place going to make them $10 million? Learning teamwork and problem solving, why can’t BU do some teamwork and problem solving to help keep this place going. The things that the kids learn there is something you can not get in a classroom. To everyone who is or has worked at Sargent Camp you are all great people and what we do and did is like no other job. It was a great pleasure that I had the chance to learn and grow at such a wonderful place.

  • Anonymous on 01.28.2009 at 4:29 pm

    The is extremely sad news especially because of all the progress and improvements the Center has made in the last few years – I truly hope there is some way to keep the place and its wonderful programs alive, even if it can no longer be a part of BU. Sargent is an incredible community and has had a positive impact of thousands of people throughout the region and the world.

  • Anonymous on 01.28.2009 at 4:58 pm

    This is truly awful. The staff is tremendous. There is no place like this camp and it has meant a great deal to me and my family.

  • Anonymous on 01.29.2009 at 10:42 am

    This is the worst idea ever. I went to Sargent Camp twice while I was a student at BU: with the Honors Program, and for Thomas Kunz’s Biology of Mammals class. The latter was probably the best experience I had in my 4 years at BU. It was a chance to get out of the city and to actually connect with my professor and students. I am truly disappointed by this decision.

  • Anonymous on 01.29.2009 at 3:33 pm

    BU needs to remember what is important

    We are a university heavily integrated into a metropolitan area and Sargent Center is invaluable to the students here. “It was simply unsustainable because of the cost of maintaining 700 acres of land in New Hampshire.” It’s unclear to me what exactly is meant by such a statement, especially considering that all 700 acres are “maintained” by a total of 15 permanent staff. How much could that possibly cost?

    What irks me the most is that BU spent an inordinate amount of money on a “Beautification” project all last year that I originally supported. Looking back on it now however, that money could have been far better utilized in saving a pristine area of forest where trees already exist rather than sticking a few dumb rosebushes next to the T-track that do no one any good besides look pretty.
    I went to Sargent camp and had the opportunity to spend a weekend learning about northeastern woodlands and I left with memories I can honestly say I will never forget (I saw a beaver in halfmoon pond while i was in a canoe at sunrise – it was amazing).
    Yes, things may have to be cut, but years from now, when the economy is better, BU will come to realize what a loss closing Sargent Center will be to the BU community and so many others.

  • Michael Dennehy on 01.29.2009 at 5:46 pm

    Like many of those who have posted comments, I too am saddened by the University’s decision to close SCOE and I hope for a different outcome. As the accompanying article mentions, Upward Bound has used Sargent Center for almost two decades. We take students during the first week of our summer residential program to build teamwork and students’ self-esteem through outdoor challenge activities. For many of our students it’s the first-time they have been out of the City of Boston. Sargent Center is fondly remembered as part of their summer experiences.

  • Anonymous on 02.03.2009 at 8:55 pm

    I am so sad to hear this news. I thought my other home would always be there for everyone: beavers, deer, moose, newts, children, families, students and staff.

  • Anonymous on 02.06.2009 at 11:23 am

    Poor Cost-Benefit Analysis

    As a non-BU affiliated commenter, I too am deeply saddened by this news. The Sargent Center is one of the best, if not the best, retreat center in New England. I have attended retreats there numerous times. There is nothing more pristine and peaceful than waking up early on a winter morning and snowshoeing across the frozen ponds at the Sargent Center only to be followed by fantastic food and hot chocolate by the fire and then later by snowtubing down the hill. What a loss for BU, retreaters, and the New England community as a whole.

  • Beth on 02.07.2009 at 10:10 pm

    Thoughts on Education

    “…My point is simply that education is no guarantee of decency, prudence, or wisom. More of the same kind of education will only compound our problems. This is not an argument for ignorance, but rather a statement that the worth of education must now be measured against the standards of decency and human survival–the issues now looming so large before us in the twenty-first century. It is not education, but education of a certain kind, that will save us…”

    -David Orr, Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect

  • Daniel Tremblay on 04.02.2009 at 4:04 pm

    It does not make sense to me. Financial sustainability? No, – poor planning. In the long run, BU is losing an invaluable asset.

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