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UUA submitting bid on Hebrew College

Morales says 'preliminary' bid will 'keep our options open'; Beacon Hill properties could be sold.
By Michelle Bates Deakin
5.23.11

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Hebrew College (Robert Molla)

View from the library of Hebrew College in Newton, Mass., a possible new site for UUA headquarters. (Robert Molla)

The Unitarian Universalist Association will submit a preliminary bid to purchase a Hebrew College property in Newton, Mass., this week, according to UUA President Peter Morales. The bid will be subject to approval by the UUA Board of Trustees.

The first round of bids on the 70,000-square-foot building in Newton, Mass., about eight miles west of the UUA’s headquarters in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, are due this week. Bidding can often take several rounds. Submitting a bid in the first round will allow the UUA “to keep options open,” Morales said.

Only the UUA Board of Trustees can buy or sell property, so this week’s bid would be conditional on board approval.

“The bid is not a commitment to pursue the property in any aggressive way,” said Morales. “Submitting a bid at this stage has the effect of keeping all our options open.”

On June 1,* the UUA’s Leadership Council is scheduled to tour the Hebrew College property as part of its analysis of the effects of selling the UUA’s current holdings and buying the Newton campus. Among the factors the Leadership Council will consider are what effects a sale would have on the Association’s financial opportunities and its ability to meet its vision, according to Kay Montgomery, UUA executive vice president. It will also consider the amount of disruption a move would create on UUA operations and concerns about the UUA’s continuity with its past.

The Leadership Council will deliberate on the issues surrounding the potential sale of the UUA’s Beacon Hill holdings, which include office buildings on 25 Beacon St. and 41 Mt. Vernon St. and the Eliot and Pickett Houses on Mt. Vernon Place. Based on their discussion, the Leadership Council will make a recommendation to Morales. Morales, in turn, will make a recommendation to the Board of Trustees, which is the ultimate decision maker. No timetable for the board’s decision has been set. The board next meets by conference call on Thursday, May 26. However, no matters related to the purchase of Hebrew College are on its May agenda.

The Leadership Council is a group of senior UUA staff members. In addition to Montgomery and Morales, it includes: Helene Atwan, director of Beacon Press; Taquiena Boston, director of Multicultural Growth and Witness; Tim Brennan, treasurer and chief financial officer; the Rev. Dr. Terasa Cooley, director of Congregational Life; John Hurley, director of Communications; the Rev. Sarah Lammert, director of Ministries and Faith Development; the Rev. Harlan Limpert, vice president of Ministries and Congregational Support; Robert Molla, director of Human Resources; Mark Steinwinter, director of Information Technology Services; and the Rev. Terry Sweetser, vice president for Stewardship and Development.

The Hebrew College building, which sits on 6.7 acres at 160 Herrick Rd. in Newton, was designed by architect Moshe Safdie, whose other projects include the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem. Hebrew College is selling the building as part of a deal with its creditors to eliminate $32 million in debt. Hebrew College is leasing space from the Andover Newton Theological School, which is next door to the Hebrew College building.

At several all-staff meetings of the UUA, Morales has suggested that the sale of the UUA’s Beacon Hill properties and purchase of Hebrew College might make sense if the property exchange generated a significant surplus of money that the Association could put into an endowment that would create additional income each year for programming and staff. Morales first announced to staff that the administration was looking into the purchase of the building at a meeting on December 7, 2010.

The timing of the deadline for first round bids was first reported by Joe Clements in The Real Reporter, a commercial real estate newsletter. The property is being marketed by Cushman & Wakefield. Brokers would not comment on what other institutions have shown interest in the property.

At its April meeting, the UUA Board of Trustees adopted a policy to guide future property or relocation decisions. The policy includes a series of “Broad Concerns” that asks how any purchase or sale would promote the “Shared Vision” of the UUA. It asks the board to take into account how a transaction would affect concerns about justice, antiracism, antioppression, and multiculturalism. Other questions assess the financial impact, symbolic value, and impact upon stakeholders, including staff, board members, congregations, lay leaders, ministers, youth, and young adults. Additional concerns focused on accessibility and environmental impact.


Correction 5.23.11: An earlier version of this article misstated the date of the Leadership Council's planned visit to Hebrew College. Click here to return to the corrected paragraph.

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