Work to transform the former Bradford College in Haverhill into the home of Zion Bible College is underway, with a goal of having students arrive on campus in the fall.
"Isn't it a beautiful thing?" said Barbara Greenwood, copresident of the Bradford College Neighborhood Association, which for seven years pushed for educational use of the vacant campus. "We are very excited."
Sale of the 18-acre property, which includes eight buildings, to Hob-Lob Ltd., an affiliated company of the Hobby Lobby Stores of Oklahoma City, was finalized last Thursday. The purchase price was $3.5 million.
After several million dollars in renovations, the campus will be donated to Zion Bible College, which will relocate from Barrington, R.I.
"We are working hard to get it to where it can be occupied by the fall," said David Green, the billionaire founder of Hobby Lobby Stores.
Green, 65, an evangelical Christian and member of the Assemblies of God church, said he was approached by Zion, which is affiliated with the church, about purchasing the Bradford campus about 15 months ago.
He wasn't interested, he said, because the campus "needed a lot of care and we were involved in other things." But Zion didn't give up and called on Green again months later.
At that time, Green said, "We thought we would take it on. We understand we have a lot of work to do."
Hob-Lob, which has more than 400 Hobby Lobby stores around the country and a chain of Christian bookstores, has its own construction division, which is handling the renovations. Green said local workers also will be hired.
Listed by Forbes as worth $2 billion and among the 400 wealthiest people in the country, Green is known for his philanthropic contributions, often real estate, to churches and charities.
In a statement, Zion officials said, "The entrance of David Green and his company was an answer to prayer and one that far exceeded what the board of trustees and administration could have imagined."
Zion officials had decided in 2006 the school had to move from its 40-acre campus in Rhode Island because of costly renovations required by the state. Bradford fit the bill for a new site.
A liberal arts college founded in 1803, Bradford closed in 2000 because of financial problems.