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MARLBORO — Democracy Builders Fund says it will retain ownership of the campus on Potash Hill after terms of a deal with a Canadian man were not met.

“We were engaged, not married,” said Seth Andrew, founder of Democracy Builders and founding member of Degrees of Freedom, during a community Zoom meeting on Tuesday night.

Andrew said the engagement did not go as planned and after due diligence was conducted by a group of lawyers, Democracy Builders called off the marriage.

Less than a year ago, Democracy Builders Fund took possession of the campus for $1,725,000 in cash and debt, one day before Marlboro College finalized its merger with Emerson College in Boston.

On Jan. 21, a quit claim deed was filed by Andrew with the Marlboro Town Clerk’s Office, transferring ownership of the campus formerly known as Marlboro College from Democracy Builders to Type 1 Civilization Academy Marlboro Campus LLC.

On Feb. 1, during a community Zoom forum, Stein said Democracy Builders and its Degrees of Freedom program were soon to be tenants with a 15-year lease.

Adrian Stein, the principal of Type 1 told the Reformer on Feb. 11 the title had been transferred to him and the property was now owned by Type 1.

In exchange for the title, Stein offered Democracy Builders $9.4 million for the campus, stated a notice of non-objection from the Vermont Attorney General’s Office. The total included $2.5 million in cash, $2.5 million in escrowed pre-paid rent, $2.5 million as a mortgage-backed structured donation, $416,000 in rent abatement, and $1.5 million in Type 1’s assumption of certain lease obligations to the Marlboro Music Festival.

However, another quit claim deed was recently filed by Andrew, transferring the property back to Democracy Builders.

Andrew said following a review of the offer, the “draft contract” was terminated but he did not reveal what obligations Stein failed to meet to consummate the “wedding.”

Stein, in response to the announcement, told the Reformer he believes this matter will end up in the courts “unless we can come to some other kind of equitable settlement.”

“I am reasonably certain that we will prevail and that we will retain our full and legitimately conveyed ownership rights to this magnificent property,” he wrote in an email.

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Stein said it appears Democracy Builders “erroneously released pre-signed quit claims (that were date certain and specific to some future mortgages) and have repurposed these instruments to re-convey the property back to themselves.”

“My view was that these instruments were supposed to be held in escrow and only released under carefully described circumstances and after the expiry of a ‘cure’ period,” he wrote in the email. “These terms have not been adhered too.”

During the community call, Andrew said the collapse of he deal means Democracy Builders will continue to be reliant on philanthropy until it breaks even.

To reach that point, he said, Degrees of Freedom needs to enroll 500 students at $9,000 each.

He noted that any student who is eligible for a full Pell Grant will be able to attend the program with no out of pocket costs or debt.

Andrew also noted with the number of dormitory beds available on campus, Degrees of Freedom could welcome up to 1,000 students a year. The program expects to welcome students to Marlboro for three two-week sessions over the course of the year, with online learning when they are not on Potash Hill.

He also said that Democracy Builders has so far in March raised $500,000 for the Degrees of Freedom program.

Before Andrew spoke, Karen Reece, vice president of talent for Degrees of Freedom, told listeners they expect a full launch with 150 students in September.

DoF will offer a “Freedom Year” for students looking to fill a gap year. The school will also offer “Liberation Launch,” a program designed with an associate’s degree as the goal. Because Degrees of Freedom is not recognized by the state, the degree will be under the auspices of Doral College, a private, non-profit institution of higher learning based in Florida.

Chandel Stone, CEO and co-founder, said Degrees of Freedom has been welcoming student fellows to the campus. These fellows are helping the leadership team focus its vision of providing opportunity to low-income, first generation students from marginalized communities, she said.

Andrew said the leadership team is also working on establishing a Marlboro College alumni center on campus, as well as making the college library available to the community at specific times.

Bob Audette can be contacted at raudette@reformer.com.


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