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Sargent Camp Revives

A nonprofit will manage the wilderness retreat; BU retains ownership

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The Sargent Center for Outdoor Education will be renamed Nature’s Classroom at Sargent Center. BU will retain ownership of the land, while Nature's Classroom will run the facility.

Boston University’s Sargent Center for Outdoor Education (SCOE), threatened with closure because of the University’s budget shortfall, will live on.

As of September 2009, the wilderness retreat in Hancock, N.H., will be operated by Nature’s Classroom, a Charlton, Mass.–based nonprofit that offers residential environmental education programs for children in grades 4 through 8 at 13 locations in the Northeast. Details are still under negotiation, but BU and Nature’s Classroom signed a letter of intent last week and both sides express confidence that a lease will be signed within weeks.

“I’ve been an admiring competitor of the Sargent Center for years,” says John Santos, director of Nature’s Classroom. “I think BU will be putting us in charge of something they’ve been doing quite well.”

BU acquired the 700-acre property in 1932 for a Sargent College teacher training program. The center later came under the purview of BU’s Metropolitan College. With room for 200 overnight guests in cabins, dormitories, and canvas “yurt villages,” the center offers an environmental education program for middle school students around the region, hosting approximately 3,000 schoolchildren each year. The summer outdoor Adventure Camp draws an average of 600 children ages 10 through 17.

The center has also served as an educational and retreat space for BU’s Schools of Management and Education, and has hosted the Residence Life and Orientation and Off-Campus Services offices, the Boston University Scholars, Upward Bound, and the summer Common Ground orientation course for new students. Universities and corporations have held retreats at the facility.

The site also is a research base for many BU faculty, particularly in natural sciences. For instance, Thomas Kunz, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of biology and director of the Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology, has been researching bats there for decades.

Earlier this year, the University said it could no longer afford to operate the SCOE and would shut it down on August 31, laying off 15 employees. A hail of protests met the decision. “This is the worst idea ever,” read one of many comments in response to a BU Today story announcing the plans.

This spring, University officials began exploring other options, which led to the pending agreement with Nature’s Classroom. Under the proposed terms of a $1 lease, renewable after 19 months, BU retain ownership of the land while Nature’s Classroom would operate the facility beginning September 1, assume the cost of staffing, maintain the camp, and charge user fees. The property will be renamed Nature’s Classroom at Sargent Center.

“We’re going to maintain as much continuity as possible,” says Santos, who emphasizes that he intends to continue offering as many of BU’s programs as possible. “We want this place to be very, very busy.” The only major change will be that the camp will close during the winter.

“I think this is a great solution to a difficult problem,” says Kunz, who will continue his bat research on the site.

Most of the SCOE’s 15 permanent employees will still be laid off (effective August 31), but Nature’s Classroom may rehire some as program managers. “We’ll maintain as many of the administrators and personnel as is practical,” says Santos. BU will retain the center’s assistant conference coordinator, Paul Hutchinson, to conduct on-campus team building and orientation programs. Center director Robert Rubendall will stay through September to help in the transition.

“This is an opportunity to keep this important site alive, to keep kids coming through here, and to have an operating facility for BU,” says Rubendall. “It’s a very optimistic and gallant proposal by Nature’s Classroom to keep it going.”

“I’m very pleased that the Sargent Center, as both a physical entity and a provider of outdoor environmental education, is going to continue to exist,” says Jay Halfond, dean of MET. “It’s just so important that we maintain this unique natural habitat for learning.”

Chris Berdik can be reached at cberdik@bu.edu.

2 Comments

2 Comments on Sargent Camp Revives

  • Gordon Ryan on 07.01.2009 at 2:21 pm

    Great news!

    This is fantastic news. I was just there a few weeks ago for a leadership retreat as part of one of my management classes. The grounds are amazing, the program is incredible, and the staff is top-notch.

  • Anonymous on 07.01.2009 at 9:20 pm

    I went to SCOE for Quickstart, and it was a great experience. I’m glad they found a way to keep it open so people can keep enjoying it.

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