The Chester Board of Selectmen met with Bill Rohr and Lei Wang, new owners of the former Chester College property in the heart of town, and learned about their plans for an international boarding school.
Wang closed on the purchase of the property on Aug. 28, and the plan is on a fast track to reshape the property for an international boarding school that is slated to open its doors in May of 2016 to students from a school in China.
The company that purchased the former college property owns five schools in China – a high school, three middle schools, and an elementary school. The new school, to be known as the Busch School, will be a middle school initially and will accommodate approximately 100 students from China.
Rohr, who was the facilities manager for the college and has been retained as the facilities and operations manager for the new school, told the selectmen at their Thursday, Sept. 24 meeting that the fast track will be helped by the fact the property will not undergo any “change of use.”
The plan is to make the library into classrooms and possibly slightly expand the dorm. A commercial kitchen will be set up, as the students will be provided three meals a day. Wang said they plan to bring in at least one and possibly two chefs from China, but otherwise, they hope to employ locals.
Rohr said the first step is getting the exterior of the campus cleaned up, which is already in progress.
The selectmen made it clear they are not the main board the new owners need to be dealing with, and Rohr and Wang said they are making visits to various departments and businesses as a meet and greet effort.
The parent company of the new school in China has approximately 5,000 students from 26 countries. The idea is that the Chester school, once it obtains accreditation, will be a stepping stone for some of the students to American colleges and will serve as an introduction to American education and culture for all attending students.
In response to a question about the number of employees, the response was teachers and chefs and a very few others. No students will be driving, and only a few cars would be at the school. A van or two might be purchased for field trips but any large trip would contract out to a bus company.
The maximum student population being considered for the school would be in the range of 500 students, but the plan is to start with about 100.
The 70-acre parcel in the center of town was once the site of Chester College of New England, which closed its doors in 2012. Since being taken by the bank the property has had two small parcels subdivided and a couple of serious proposals for its purchase come up unsuccessful. Potential uses for the property included a senior living complex and a typical single-family subdivision. Soon after the college closed its doors the town considered purchasing the property to control its future, but voters at town meeting in 2013 decided the price tag was too high.