Pine Manor fights to keep school grounds


An installation featuring Pine Manor students and staff protests the takeover of the college’s land by eminent domain. EMMA KAHN/SAGAMORE STAFF

Education is a fundamental right in our country. It allows people to rise up through the ranks and fulfill the American dream. The question, however, is this: Should one educational institution have greater priority to this right than another?

With the Brookline school populations rising, the town is looking for locations to construct a ninth elementary school. One proposed building location is an area of land currently owned by Pine Manor College, a private college in Brookline comprise, that would be taken by eminent domain.

Neil Wishinsky, the Chair of the Brookline Board of Selectmen, explained that Pine Manor is being considered because of complications with a previous possible site at Baldwin, near Soule Recreation Center.

“We thought we had a site in Baldwin, and we very well might, but we got an opinion from the National Park Service saying that land in the back of the school is protected in a way we hadn’t expected, so that kind of changed things,” Wishinsky said.

In the past, Pine Manor had sold portions of their land due to long-standing financial troubles, but they had hoped to put that practice behind them after bringing in new leadership for the college. In 2016, President Thomas M. O’Reilly arrived, prepared to work hard for the college.

Famous among students for its natural beauty, this area of Pine Manor near the softball field is a part of the campus that could be the site of the ninth elementary school. EMMA KAHN/SAGAMORE STAFF

According to O’Reilly, he and the college are unhappy with Brookline’s plans to take Pine Manor land by eminent domain, a governmental right to take private property for public use, after a rejection to buying the land through more conventional methods.

According to O’Reilly this potential land purchase would not be beneficial to the college for a plethora of reasons.

“If you look at a report the town issued a year ago called Civic Moxie, Pine Manor College is specifically identified as a site they should not take because of two reasons,” O’Reilly said. “It’s fulfilling an educational purpose, and it would be deemed a hostile takeover of the land.”

According to O’Reilly, this potential seizure of Pine Manor land by eminent domain would be considered a hostile takeover because Pine Manor is not compliant with it.

“Many times eminent domain is used, and it’s not hostile,” O’Reilly said. “Our attorneys…have researched as far back as 1940 and have never seen a hostile taking against a public charity.”

Additionally, the construction of a new elementary school at Pine Manor would be going against standards for educational institutions Brookline set for itself, such as requiring the school to be a walkable one, O’Reilly said.

“So it doesn’t make any sense to me why they would target Pine Manor College,” O’Reilly said.

However, according to the recent “Board of Selectmen’s Draft, Explanation of Warrant Article 1,” there were specific benefits to building on Pine Manor land, specifically compared to the location at Soule.

“The Pine Manor site would have a lower construction cost than the current Baldwin plan because it would not include extensive improvements to the Soule Recreation Center facilities,” the Board of Selectmen’s Draft read.

This specific site, Pine Manor, is serving as an invaluable resource to students from underrepresented minority groups that Pine Manor specializes in fostering, helping them in often life-changing ways, O’Reilly explained.

“The college is graduating these students at three times the national average and in the last couple of years, 90, 94, and 100 percent of the students got jobs or went to grad school, so it has a very significant outcome for this demographic in the country,” O’Reilly said.

However, the Pine Manor site could also be used to serve the growing population of children in the Brookline community, the Board of Selectmen’s Draft said.

“Brookline’s eight elementary schools are all overcrowded, and we share the feelings of need, hope, frustration and urgency that are being felt throughout our community, and particularly by our school families and educators” the Board of Selectmen’s Draft read.

O’Reilly argued that the socioeconomic disparity between the people of Brookline and the students at Pine Manor is part of the issue.

“Here at the college we often talk about the platinum rule, which is of a higher grade of gold. The platinum rule says, ‘treat others as they would want to be treated.’ I think that’s the gap here,” O’Reilly said. “The town is saying ‘we want that space, because we want to build a school there. It’s what we want.’ What they’re not saying is ‘how would the college and the students feel about this, and what would be in their interest?’”

Student and staff testimonies about the importance of Pine Manor College are currently displayed on the campus. EMMA KAHN/SAGAMORE STAFF

On the other hand, Wishinsky pointed out that the Brookline elementary school students need to be educated.

“The kids are here, and they need classrooms, and they need teachers,” Wishinsky said. “We don’t have a choice. We have to find places for the kids.”

Wishinsky also explained that these conversations are still happening, including over the monetary value of the land, and no concrete decisions have been made to build at Pine Manor.

“One of the things we have to figure out is how much do we think we have to pay for the property,” said Wishinsky. “We’ve received a letter from their lawyer with all kinds of high figures that we don’t necessarily agree with, but we have to do our own independent evaluation.”

As of now, there is still a lot more work that would need to be done before the ninth elementary school could be built on the land at Pine Manor.

“Two important educational missions have been pitted against each other and that’s like taking the two biggest players, and you say ‘who’s going to win?’” O’Reilly described. “They fight it out, and that’s never a good scenario.”