Several of the historic buildings on the now-defunct Dowling College’s Oakdale campus should be preserved under its new owner, according to a local historical society that has asked the Town of Islip to extend landmark preservation status to the buildings.
“The Town of Islip has the ability to put a protection on it. They can change the zoning so the exterior can’t be changed . . . the outside would look the same forever,” said Maryann Almes, the president of the Oakdale Historical Society. “It would be a shame to lose it because people didn’t speak up.”
The college — which was built in 1968 on 25 acres of the 900-acre former estate of William K. Vanderbilt called Idle Hour — disclosed last year that it was $56 million in debt, closed its doors and filed for bankruptcy proceedings that included selling its Oakdale campus at auction.
In a sale that closed Aug. 21, the campus is now owned by Mercury International of Delaware, a company affiliated with NCF Capital of Hong Kong, said Sean Southard, an attorney representing Dowling College in its bankruptcy proceedings.
NCF Capital was the second-place bidder in the bankruptcy auction of the college’s Oakdale campus, with a $26.1 million offer after the winning bidder, Princeton Education Center, failed to close on its $26.5 million offer in June.
With a new campus owner in place, the Oakdale Historical Society has asked the Islip Town Board to protect several of the historic buildings, including its signature one: the 110-room limestone and brick Fortunoff Hall, designed in the early 1900s by renowned architect Richard Howland Hunt for Vanderbilt as his summer mansion.
The town board voted unanimously on Aug. 22 to hold public hearings on extending the town’s Planned Landmark Preservation District to include the Vanderbilt mansion, as well as the estate’s former carriage house, engineer house, power house, a well and a century-old willow tree on the campus.
If granted, the preservation district zoning will require the owners to keep the tree and the exterior facades of the structures intact, while allowing additional development elsewhere on the campus.
“It’s great the town is taking it seriously. The community has expressed a significant interest in this,” said Sarah Kautz, the preservation director for the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, which has advocated for the protection of the Idle Hour buildings.
The Islip planning board has not yet scheduled the public hearing, according to town attorney John DiCioccio.
Calls placed to Matthew Roseman, a lawyer representing NCF Capital, were not returned, but he has told Newsday that his client intends to use the site as an educational facility and maintain the estate’s historic character. Mercury International officials could not be reached for comment.