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Domestic News | November 2, 2012

Grand Canyon University returns free campus

Domestic News

President says unforeseen costs made project too risky

Tracy Student Center sits on an historic 217-acre campus in Northfield, Mass. in this photo taken Thursday, March 8, 2012. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Last week, Grand Canyon University backed out of a deal to accept a free 217-acre campus in Massachusetts, saying millions of dollars in unanticipated costs made the project too risky.

In September, Steve Green, whose family owns the Hobby Lobby craft store chain, awarded Arizona-based Grand Canyon University the campus after determining the school's financial strength, growth and vibrant Christian life made it a great choice.

But GCU president Brian Mueller said closer examination revealed that an additional $30 million worth of renovations would be necessary to make the campus functional. He also concluded that the campus' remote location would eventually be a liability.

"We didn't want to accept a free gift in a very bad location and try to fight that for the next 30 years," he said.

The Greens bought the property in 2009 and invested $5 million in improvements. They intended to give the property to a new college named for author and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis. When that venture stalled in December, they offered it for free to groups committed to honoring D.L. Moody's traditional Christian teaching. Moody founded the campus as Mount Herman Preparatory School in 1879. The Green family claims the property is worth about $20 million.

GCU emerged as the recipient when the other semi-finalist, the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Missions Board, backed out after determining it lacked the financial resources to make the campus fully operable.

The for-profit Grand Canyon University, based in Phoenix, planned to use the campus to house an additional 5,000 students. It also viewed the property as a northeastern base for its expanding online enrollment. But the school board was forced to back out of the deal when anticipated renovation costs went from $150 million to $180 million.

The school board informed the Greens last week, five weeks after an awarding ceremony that ended the extensive recipient search. Green said the family was disheartened by the decision.

"However, many groups have expressed an interest in the campus...we will begin a new search soon," Green said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.