Lebanon College’s Demise Leaves Hole in City’s Downtown
Miriam Osofsky, of Hanover, N.H., walks past Lebanon College while on her way to lunch at the Lebanon Diner on August 19, 2014. Osofsky took American Sign Language courses at the college years ago so she could communicate with her son Sam, who is now 17. "I have a lot of warm feelings about Lebanon College," said Osofsky. "It's so sad." (Valley News - Ariana van den Akker) Purchase photo reprints »
Lebanon — The cancellation of fall classes at Lebanon College, which an official said was the first step toward permanently closing the school, drew mixed responses from students, faculty and nearby business owners on Tuesday.
Rising Lebanon High senior Alex Biron, taking a break from his job at The Lebanon Diner on Tuesday afternoon, said he hadn’t heard the news, which the college announced on its website on Monday.
“Some people are relying on it,” he said. “I’m sorry to hear it’s closing.”
President Ron Biron pointed to weak fall enrollment, 53 full-time students were slated to start classes next week, as the primary motivation for the cancellation in a statement released Monday. Twenty-six students received their associate degrees from Lebanon College in June.
Grabbing a bite at Salt hill Pub across the mall from Lebanon College, three students shared their surprise and dismay at the college’s Monday announcement.
Mariana Marcano, 19, a 2013 Lebanon High graduate with just six classes to go to complete her associates degree in business, said she had tried to go on to the school’s website to find out whether her credits would transfer, but couldn’t because the site was taken down on Monday and replaced with the brief message announcing the cancellation of classes.
Marcano said she had chosen private Lebanon College because of its “affordability.”
Before this fall, three-credit courses cost $690 each, said Flora Lopez, also a 19-year-old 2013 Lebanon High graduate, seated next to Marcano. The tuition was recently raised to $720 per class, she said.
In comparison, three credits at Granite State College — an arm of the state college system that has classes in Claremont — would cost nearly $900.
Lopez, her sister Laura, 20, and Marcano are not U.S. citizens. The Lopez sisters were born in Guatemala, while Marcano’s family is from Venezuela. As immigrants, they said, they do not qualify for federal financial aid as most of their former Lebanon High classmates do.
Marcano and the Lopez sisters have considered Lebanon College to be a “stepping stone” to advanced degrees, they said. They said they hope to eventually transfer to Colby Sawyer or SUNY Plattsburgh.
“We want to move on up,” said Flora Lopez. “It’s been harder for all three of us, being immigrants.”
She said she and her family immigrated to the U.S. about 14 years ago and went through the Lebanon school system.
“It’s the only home we’ve ever known,” she said.
Marcano said she feels as though she has one foot in the U.S. and one foot in Venezuela. Neither place feels completely like home. With tears in her eyes, she said, her family cannot return to Venezuela because her parents have been blacklisted there and would not be able to find work.
Now, Lebanon College’s closure will affect Marcano’s family doubly because her father is employed there.
Marcano said it “sounds negative,” but “I don’t think we should get our hopes up” that classes will resume. The students said they have begun exploring transfer options such as Granite State College, River Valley Community College and Franklin Pierce University.
Second-year radiography student Matt Pomerville, 43, of Lebanon, took a decidedly different view, as he was leaving the college after checking on his financial aid on Tuesday afternoon. He said he was optimistic that he would be able to complete his degree.
“I’m sure something will work out,” he said. “I’m really not worried.”
He said he had come into school on Tuesday so that “just in case” classes resumed he would have his “ducks in a row, financially.”
Former student Miriam Osofsky, a Lebanon-based psychologist, fondly recalled taking sign language classes at Lebanon College with her husband, Aaron, a Lebanon dentist, fifteen years ago so they could communicate with their son Sam, who is now 17.
“It was wonderful to have that access,” she said.
In addition to students, faculty lamented the school’s closing.
Lee Walker Oxenham — described by Marcano as “one of the hidden gems of this school” — who taught world history, economics, anthropology and American democracy at the school said she was frustrated that faculty were left out of the decision-making process.
“I really feel the faculty should have been involved,” she said.
Beyond frustration though, Oxenham said she is “heartbroken” by the closure.
She said she was holding out hope that there might be a solution to keep the school open. Oxenham, who is running for a seat in New Hampshire’s House of Representatives, said she feels that the school ought to be a publicly-supported community college because it serves a “vital function.”
She suggested that the faculty might team up to approach legislators or propose a merger with Granite State College.
“I’m never one to say ‘die,’ ” she said.
Faculty member Maura Naughton said she will continue to teach Irish conversation classes. She spoke with her four advanced students on Tuesday and they all agreed to continue meeting elsewhere this fall, despite Lebanon College’s closure.
“I would not let them down for anything,” she said.
Not everyone was saddened by the news, however. Donna Peters, of the Shoetorium, the former tenant of a 5,100-square-foot building purchased by Lebanon College in 2008 for $725,000, said her sympathy for the school’s plight was tainted by the experience of getting kicked out of their previous location.
“It’s almost like they deserve what they get,” she said.
Despite her history with the school, Peters said she “felt bad” for President Ron Biron, who took the job in fall 2012, when the school was saddled with debt.
The school is $2.2 million in debt, Biron said, on Monday.
Peters was already beginning to imagine a new future for the prime downtown space, formerly home to a Woolworth’s.
She said she thought the school’s two buildings on the pedestrian mall might be better suited to small retail shops, such as a drug store or a place that sells greeting cards.
Behind the counter at Omer & Bob’s Sportshop, Tom Read suggested something like the West Lebanon Powerhouse Mall might make sense.
He described downtown Lebanon as a “great spot” with free parking, but said, “we need more foot traffic.”
Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3213.