Less than a month after breaking ground for the Island Wide Youth Collaborative, Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS) is again expanding its real estate portfolio — this time by merging with the long-dormant Nathan Mayhew Seminars (NMS) and taking over the onetime headquarters of the organization; the Stephen Carey Luce house and Fanny Blair Hall on Greenwood Avenue in Vineyard Haven.
There is no quid pro quo in this merger. The NMS, a nonprofit that has essentially been inoperative for 15 years, is gifting a valuable property, free and clear, to MVCS, a nonprofit that has been growing at a rapid pace.
Chuck Hughes, NMS board president, said he was inspired to get involved in 2011, when he heard former NMS President Ted Box and Vineyard Haven businessman Rubin Cronig, watchmaker and owner of the AquaNaut shop on Main Street, were working to restore the 100-plus-year-old Luce house. Mr. Hughes, a veteran of a number of Island nonprofits, including the YMCA where he is a founding board member, said restoring the dilapidated NMS buildings, and restoring order to helter-skelter NMS ledgers, were the biggest challenges of his nonprofit career.
“The building was in horrible shape,” Mr. Hughes told The Times. “The roof leaked so badly, the front staircase looked like a waterfall when it rained. When we looked into the books, we couldn’t even tell if they’d used an accountant. They were way behind in the mortgage. They were eight years behind filing 990s [tax forms]. We found out there was an IRS lien for back taxes. The bank wasn’t even aware of that.”
Mr. Hughes gave high praise to Kim Angell at Vineyard Tax Matters for helping sort out the accounting morass. “Kim was an angel; thank God for her,” he said.
“This turned out to be a wonderful project, but when we were in the middle of it, it was daunting. The YMCA was a piece of cake compared to this,” he said, laughing.
The new board of directors of NMS had humble beginnings. “Initially the board was basically Chuck and me having coffee,” Mr. Cronig said. “We’d worked together on the Charter School board before, so we knew how to powerhouse through things. We didn’t assemble a feel-good board, we assembled a ‘get your hands dirty’ board.”
As the construction and reorganization work got into full gear, Mr. Hughes said, he ran into Nell Coogan, now the director of development and community relations at MVCS, who said she’d read about the project. “Nell said the Family Center needed to move, and she wanted to come over and take a look at the place,” Mr. Hughes said. “The new board decided if we were able to clean it up, Community Services should benefit. They have a similar mission to the [NMS] by providing education and a wide range of support to the Island community.”
Tisbury votes yes
A key piece of the funding came from Tisbury voters, in the form of Community Preservation Committee (CPC) funds. Board member Jeff Kristal, a Tisbury selectman and co-owner of the Crocker House Inn, suggested that the NMS board seek CPC funds, which support historic preservation, open space preservation, outdoor recreation, and affordable housing. Voters at the April 2012 annual town meeting approved two articles approving CPC funds for the NMS campus renovation — one for $10,000 for grounds cleanup and protection, invasive species removal, and landscape planning, and a second for $35,000 for the rehabilitation and replacement of the roof on the Luce House and other repairs.
Mr. Hughes said MVCS helped raise money, and private donors also contributed. NMS also sold a small slice of land to an abutting homeowner to help with the cost of retrofitting the building to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) codes. Mr. Hughes said most of the tradesmen did the work for below market price. “Many of them had kids that went to the Family Center when it was at the high school,” Mr. Hughes said. “They knew firsthand what a valuable resource it is to the Island.”
MVCS Executive Director Julie Faye said Islanders also made large donations in sweat equity. “It took two years and a lot of volunteers to make this happen,” she told The Times. “There was an enormous amount of work to be done. The buildings had fallen into terrible disrepair.”
Last spring, MVCS began leasing the first floor of the Luce house for the Martha’s Vineyard Family Center (MVFC), after it made the move from the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, where it had been for 24 years.
Ms. Faye said that not long after the MVFC moved in, Mr. Hughes, Mr. Cronig, and other members of the NMS board approached MVCS with the merger proposition. “They said it doesn’t make sense for us to keep the building, since we don’t plan on reviving the seminars,” she said. “They came to us because they were being good citizens.”
Federal law requires that when two nonprofits merge, the charitable mission of both entities must survive. “Their charitable vision was education, and our family center is all about education,” Ms. Faye said. “The entire occupancy of the building is tied to an educational mission.”
MVCS has leased the upstairs of the Luce building to ACE MV and Island Grown Schools. Mr. Hughes said the income MVCS gets from subletting will more than cover operations and maintenance for the building.
The Fanny Blair building will continue to be used by for activities like Tai Chi, ballroom dancing, modern dance class, and a men’s meditation group.
Cycle of life
NMS was was founded in 1976 by Thomas Goethals, Jim Norton, and Woodrow Sayre. For more than 20 years, NMS offered lecture series and college-credit courses in conjunction with Northeastern University, UMass Dartmouth, Cape Cod Community College, and Boston University. Around 2000, as its board members aged, programming dwindled. As NMS activity declined, so went the condition of the grounds and buildings. After the merger is officially made later this month, NMS will be no more. But Mr. Hughes is sanguine about the change.
“Nathan Mayhew [Seminars] was wonderful,” Mr. Hughes said. “Then it grew old and stale. Nonprofits have a life cycle like anything else. If they can’t be sustainable, they ought to find a way of transferring their assets to another entity that can carry on.”
Mr. Hughes said that he, Mr. Cronig, and physician Dr. Henry Nieder will make up an advisory board, to make sure the building is maintained and that it fits the educational needs of the Island.
“We want to give the building free and clear of the mortgage and the lien,” he said. “Then, after we file our last 1099, we will disappear.”