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  • Staff file photo

    The sign advertising to passers-by of the presents of The Thomas More College in Merrimack stands at the edge of the driveway leading to the school and Manchester Street.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris

    A road sign points down Manchester Street in Merrimack to the campus of Thomas More College, which announced it was moving it's Merrimack location to Groton, Mass.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris

    A van sits parked in the parking lot at Thomas More College in Merrimack.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris

    A bench sits between two trees in front of The Library where classes are held on Thomas More College's campus in Merrimack.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris

    A statue of The Virgin Mary sits beyond a grove of trees on Thomas More College's Merrimack campus.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Merrimack’s Thomas More College planning to relocate undergraduate program to Mass.

MERRIMACK – After three decades at a quaint but cramped Merrimack campus, Thomas More College of Liberal Arts is planning to relocate its undergraduate program to a larger setting in Groton, Mass.

College President William Fahey said the school’s future home, 122 Old Ayer Road, is a 35-acre farm surrounded by conservation land and would accommodate the college’s plans to eventually expand to 300 students in the undergraduate program. The college has put a down payment on the property, valued at $1.7 million, and has secured funding for the total cost. Fahey would not disclose the expected purchase price.

There are some steps that still need to be taken, including a capital campaign to help pay for the cost of building eight to 12 new buildings on the Groton campus. Fahey said it would be four to five years before the move takes place.

At its 12-acre campus at 6 Manchester St., Merrimack, the school has 80 students. The private Catholic college is one of the smallest accredited schools in the country. When the school moves to Groton, the goal is to create an 80-student graduate program at the Merrimack campus, Fahey said.

The school has had recent financial struggles. In 2009, the college was put on probation by its accrediting institution, the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, for failing to meet its financial standards. Fahey said expanding the college’s enrollment is one way it will be able to generate more revenue.

“This kind of growth is exactly what the college needs to have stable resources,” Fahey said.

Fahey stressed that the college’s relationship with Merrimack has always been positive. The college’s need to expand is the only reason for the move, he said.

“Our decision to move has nothing to do with any disappointment with Merrimack or New Hampshire,” Fahey said.

Fahey said discussions about moving came about four years ago when the college’s board of trustees authorized plans to expand.

The current property can’t sustain anything close to that, Fahey said, so a search began for a new location. Originally, the search was limited to New Hampshire, but eventually broadened to northern Massachusetts.

Fahey said the college began conversations with Groton town officials initially because it was looking to acquire Sacred Heart Church, which the Archdiocese of Boston closed several years ago, and relocate it to the Merrimack campus.

It was during those discussions when the parcel of land available in Groton came up, he said.

Fahey said the deal is close to being complete but still described the move as potential.

“There’s still a number of due diligence things to take care of,” he said.

Last week, Groton voters approved a plan to extend the town sewer line to the new campus, the cost of which will be covered by Thomas More. The college also will pay $24,000 a year to the town – money that the town would have otherwise been collecting through taxes on the property. Unlike in New Hampshire, private colleges and universities are exempt from paying property taxes in Massachusetts.

Thomas More promotes itself as offering an education that focuses on intensive reading of the great books. All students spend an entire semester studying in Rome.

Officials in Groton are excited for the college’s arrival, said Town Manager Mike Haddad. The college will boost the local economy and enhance the town’s culture, he said.

“It definitely adds to the prestige of the town,” Haddad said.

Fahey said there will be an 18- to 24-month capital campaign starting later this year to help with the costs of constructing a new campus. He said the new campus would be designed with traditional 18th century Colonial architecture in mind. There is a large estate house already on the land that the college plans to use, he said.

“The goal would be to try to make the campus look such that people who drove by would not think that’s a modern college, but one with older buildings that have always been there,” Fahey said.

Thomas More College was founded in 1978 and has been at its Merrimack location for 30 years, Fahey said. The college owns the property, which is valued at $3.6 million, according to Merrimack’s assessing database.

Current students will not be impacted, but depending on the timing of the move, next year’s incoming freshmen class might be. College tuition this year is $16,100. Room and board is $9,100.

Michael Brindley can be reached at 594-6426 or