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Dowling’s new owner wants to reopen it as another college

An application has been filed to operate the Oakdale property as a college, more than a year after Dowling ran out of money and closed.

The new owners of Dowling College in Oakdale,

The new owners of Dowling College in Oakdale, seen on April 7, 2017, will have an informational meeting Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018, to talk about their plans. Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Dowling College’s Oakdale campus would be operated as a college again and designated an Islip Town landmark district under a draft proposal by its new owner.

Mercury International LLC, of Delaware, a company affiliated with NCF Capital, applied last month to change the zoning of the shuttered 25-acre campus from a residential use “to allow for other uses,” said Don Cook, the company’s director of operations.

Dowling College, which closed in 2016 after running out of funds and losing accreditation, operated as a private liberal arts school in an Oakdale residential zone with Islip Town special use permits. Those permits were not transferrable in the property’s sale, according to Dowling’s website.

“We want to do a college but it’s not permitted right now,” Cook said Monday in an interview that appears to be the first one discussing Mercury’s plans for the property. He declined to elaborate, citing a planned informational meeting open to the public Tuesday.

Mercury would need to obtain a special permit from the town planning board to operate as a degree-granting school, Islip spokeswoman Caroline Smith said.

“I’m pleased that Mercury has set up this meeting with the community to share their vision, and elicit feedback from the neighbors,” Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter said in a statement.

Mercury has not yet submitted an application with the state Board of Regents to operate a college, a state education official said Monday. The board has temporarily stopped accepting applications statewide for degree-granting authority while it revises the process to handle a growing number of groups seeking to open educational institutions, according to a state education department document.

Mercury International of Delaware is affiliated with Hong Kong-based NCF Capital Ltd., which purchased the property for $26.1 million in August after Dowling filed for bankruptcy.

Dowling’s Brookhaven campus in Shirley was auctioned off last week with no announced winner after the top bid hit $10.2 million.

Mercury’s zone change application includes a planned landmark preservation overlay district over part of the campus, including the Idle Hour mansion and the performing arts building, Cook said. The overlay would require town approval on most changes of use or appearance.

Cook said in a letter to campus neighbors that the overlay “would permit specific adaptive interior reuses in order to preserve these architecturally significant structures.” The campus’ recreation center was not included because it is undergoing structural evaluation, and the company did not purchase the campus security building, he wrote.

The Oakdale Historical Society has advocated to preserve the 110-room Idle Hour mansion, which was rebuilt in the early 1900s after a fire destroyed the original.

Maryann Almes, the society’s president, said she wants to learn more about Mercury’s plans and make sure company officials know the history of the property.

“It’s the jewel in our community, and we need to keep it protected,” she said.

If approved by the town planning board, the campus would become the town’s third planned landmark district, joining the ranks of Sagtikos Manor in Bay Shore and the Idle Hour Artists Colony. The campus and the colony were once part of the same 900-acre estate of William K. Vanderbilt, the grandson of railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Mercury officials will hold a meeting Tuesday to make “sure the residents are comfortable with the process” of the zone change at Town Hall West auditorium, 401 Main St. in Islip, from 5 to 7 p.m., Cook said.

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