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May 11, 2012

College’s Plans Creep Along At ‘J. Geils Farm’ In Groton

PHOTO/LIVIA GERSHON Horses graze on part of the J. Geils Farm in Groton, where The Thomas More College plans to build a new campus for up to 350 students.

More than a year ago, The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, a tiny Catholic institution based in Merrimack, N.H., shelled out $1.6 million to buy a 34-acre farm in Groton.

The town cleared the way for the college with a vote that promised to extend sewer lines out to the farm as long as the college paid for the extension. But — perhaps fittingly for a school that focuses on classics of the Western tradition, religious contemplation and teaching as an art — the college is not hurrying to move to its new location. Before it can make the move, Thomas More is running a multiyear, multistage capital campaign to pay for the new campus.

In an email interview, William Fahey, the school's president, said the first part of the campaign, which is already underway and expected to take three years, will fund the campus infrastructure. After that, a second, five-year drive will raise money for the construction of campus buildings.

The college's current location in southern New Hampshire can support only about 100 students, and it will probably reach capacity next year, Fahey wrote. After that, it may have to put up some temporary housing so it can continue to grow while the capital campaigns move forward. Fahey wrote that the school may have 150 or 200 students by the time it actually makes the move, and the Groton campus — about 20 miles south of Merrimack — should have enough room for 350.

“The process could be accelerated, of course, with swift and generous donor support,” Fahey wrote.

When the college decided it wouldn't be able to expand at its current location, it looked at a number of factors that it hoped to find in a new spot: local support, easy access to the Boston area, attractive surroundings and a good relationship with a vibrant local community.

“Groton was always a dream candidate because of the town's beauty and long history of supporting academic institutions,” Fahey wrote.

Groton is already home to two private high schools, Lawrence Academy and Groton School. Together, the schools enroll nearly 800 students, more than half of whom live on the campuses.

The property itself was part of the attraction. Locally known as J. Geils Farm in honor of its former ownership by the frontman and namesake of the J. Geils Band, it's a picturesque spot half a mile from Groton's Main Street on Old Ayer Road. Horses graze in pens surrounded by various sheds, stables and other buildings.

The college has already chosen an architect to begin designing concepts for the campus, David Mayernick of Indiana, whose website describes him as being heavily inspired by classical, Renaissance and Baroque art and architecture. Fahey wrote that, when it comes time for construction, it plans to find a local firm to work with.

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