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Senseless vandalism still plagues what was Dowling College in Oakdale.

What will become of the scenic and historic former Dowling College campus in Oakdale if the deed is taken away from tax delinquent Mercury International by the County of Suffolk. They bought the campus in 2017 for $26.1 million, Mercury failed to pay their taxes for 3 years. Of the $4 million they owed, they paid $2.9 million. If they don't within the next 6 months, they could lose their deed to the County of Suffolk. In the interim, they must maintain the property or else face other consequences; continued public scrutiny and pay large fines which would be piled on to their already large tax bill.

death-of-dowling-college-1968-2016

Despite more media coverage via CBS news and Newsday that had a full-page article in the Our Towns section that tells a sad story of senseless vandalism taking place too often at was once Dowling College in Oakdale.

On August 2nd, the neighborhood watch group that volunteers to watch over the grounds reported that the mansion (a.k.a. Fortunoff Hall) sustained an estimated $50,000 to $100,000 in damages due to vandalism by fun-seekers. What a shame.

Then more recently the Learning Resource Center (Library) had doors broken, ceiling tiles taken off, and still surprising there are books on the shelves for no one to read or use. Mercury International the careless owners should donate them to libraries so they can be put to use.

As a result of all these break-ins and destruction, Angie Carpenter (Islip Town Supervisor) reached out to the Oakdale Historical Society, working with Suffolk County Police Dept. to come up with solutions to stop these reckless acts of destruction.

Carpenter wrote a letter on August 3rd to the acting Suffolk County Police Commissioner that offers a good idea that could help slow down or even stop the senseless destruction and break-ins that have plagued the property these past few years. The idea is a simple one, but a good one. Carpenter suggested that Suffolk County Police use the parking lot near the mansion as a "relief point" this way there can be more police presence to deter and stop vandals.

Mercury International the current property owners doesn't provide security on this water-front, historic property that is easily valued more than the $26.1 million they paid for it in 2017.

The Town of Islip held an in-person meeting at 655 Main St. on July 20th at 2 pm. A good portion of that meeting was about the state of the mansion and the grounds and how it's being neglected. What was the outcome of that meeting after a number of local residents voiced their concerns and displeasure about how Mercury has done little to clean up the property and safeguard the grounds?

Residents and also members of the neighborhood watch group are tired of all the break-ins. They happen all too frequently and residents are most concerned, much more so than Mercury International.

Mercury needs to step up and stop the neglect of what was once a picture-perfect and historic property that was the campus of Dowling College for nearly 50 years.

Mercury can't hide much longer before some sort of corrective action is taken. Let's keep the pressure on them Oakdale to stop the neglect and restore this prime property so it's no longer a site of sorrow and neglect.

The pressure was put on Mercury International who purchased what was the picture-perfect Dowling College campus in Oakdale in 2017 in a bankruptcy sale for $26.1 million, to clean up and maintain the property.

They have neglected the property, especially the past two years. Since then, the property has gone into a steady state of disrepair and decay. The former campus has been vandalized and there have been break-ins. Unfortunately, the break-ins continue since Mercury provides has no security presence. If it wasn't for the dedicated neighborhood watch group, there would be squatters and broken glass everywhere.

The once crown jewel of historic Idle Hour, sadly has become an eyesore with fallen trees, branches, tall grass, and broken glass via the numerous break-ins. Because of the break-ins, the campus poses a danger to nearby community residents.

The pressure has been rightfully applied on Mercury by Tom Alfano and the Friends of Idle Hour, The Oakdale Historical Society, many caring and concerned Oakdale residents such as David Chan, Anthony Piccirillo (R-8th District), the Town of Islip and to a lesser degree by some former alumni like myself who hold degrees from what once was Suffolk County's first 4-year private college that was postcard-perfect on 25-acres of waterfront property that was also the former William K. Vanderbilt summer mansion.

The heat started when on May 19th, at 5:17 pm on NBC News 4 NY on a 2-minute news segment "Danger Next Door" the former Dowling College campus was shown in its current state; abandoned and in ruins. News 4 showed up close, the vandalized buildings, the fallen trees, and the tall and unkept grass.

Then on May 28th, News 12 did the same, which further fueled the fire for change and to hold Mercury Int'l accountable. Caught on camera was a Mercury employee coming out of the mansion who had no comment. No surprise. He should be embarrassed and ashamed to be part of this mess.

In addition to TV coverage, The Suffolk County News (SCN) ran a feature article on 5/28 which detailed the actions that have been taken and the people who deserve credit for bringing what we all hope is change and to force by all legal means, Mercury to do the right time; maintain the historic property properly or be fined. Newsday at times has run similar articles, but SCN' was most informative.

The property was inspected on June 11th for a second time, if they fail the inspection, the Town of Islip will have the right to board up the windows and clean up the property so it's presentable. All those associated costs would be added to Mercury's tax bill.

As for paying taxes, Mercury was once 3 years behind and it was confirmed that they actually paid $2.9 million of the $4 million owed.

Since the news coverage and the inspection of the property, Mercury has mowed the grass and removed fallen trees, but again provides no security. So the break-ins still are happening despite the good efforts of the Neighborhood Watch group.

Mercury is slow to do any repair once there's been damage done. It's the Neighbor Watch group that has instead stepped up and done the work.

Being a former graduate of Dowling College from the 1980s, I was happy to learn at first that Mercury International of Delaware who is affiliated with the buyer of record, Hong Kong-based NCF Capital Ltd in the Fall of 2017 had once proposed to reopen the historic 25-acres of waterfront property as a place of learning. Oakdale College at one point I had heard was a possible alternative, but the buyer changed their plans. In short, they did absolutely nothing, but sit on the property and let it decay as it is to this day. Unfortunately, it's gotten far worse.

If someone were to tell me you will outlive the college you graduated from, I would not believe them. I'd say, no way, not possible. Well, it did happen to me and thousands of other alumni when Dowling College closed after 48 years (1968-2016).

Dowling's Oakdale campus focal point was the 110-room, 45,000 square feet William K. Vanderbilt summer home later renamed Fortunoff Hall after a former benefactor Alan Fortunoff who paid to restore the mansion after a fire in 1974 badly damaged the historic structure.

To think my college closed because it became saddled with too much debt, $65.8 million to be exact, is sad and shocking.

To think the degree that sits below the workstation I write from is from middle states accredited college that doesn't exist anymore is sad and downright depressing.

Mercury International of Delaware when they become the buyer was identified in court documents as "An educational end-user." That turned out to be a farce; a blatant lie.

I was then somewhat relieved that Dowling would still possibly remain a place of learning of some kind and that parts of the prime property have been preserved as landmark preservations. The mansion, performing arts center, the water well as well as what is known as the "Love Tree"; a mature weeping beech that is just east of Idle Hour House will remain.

Credit must be given for the preservation thanks to the efforts of Maryann Almes, President of the Oakdale Historical Society, and also to the Islip Town Board that voted in favor to preserve a part of Long Island history.

Also, credit must be given to the neighborhood watch group who have watched the property as if it was their own. They've called the Suffolk County Police Department numerous times to report vandalism and trespassing.

Both the landmark preservation as well as the slight possibility that the Oakdale campus could still possibly remain a place of learning diminishes my sadness slightly.

However, I and my fellow alumni will forever feel a sense of loss that Dowling College is no more. Just maybe, NBC News 4 and News 12 coverage as well as frequent articles that appear in Suffolk County News, will expedite action for the long-term good. It appears it has already forced Mercury to clean up its act and maintain the property or else; face the consequences; pay huge fines and or, possibly lose the property.





Comments

Jack Tarantino on March 21, 2020:

It should be temporarily be taken over by Army Corps of Engineers and use it as a hospital for covid 19 patients

jameswritesbest (author) on October 21, 2019:

I'm sorry for those professors that lost their jobs. I know that pain being in marketing. I lost my job multiple times due to mergers as well as companies I worked for that went out of business.

philip abbate on October 21, 2019:

What about the professor who worked a very long time there ?

jameswritesbest (author) on October 06, 2019:

Irene, thank you for reading my article and for your informative comments. Myself and other alumni appreciate the information.

Irene Vertullo Gersch -Empowering You Marketing from Long Island New York on October 06, 2019:

They bought it for $26 million when it was valued at about $51 million

They bought with the intention to open another college

However it is zoned as residential use

Dowling operated as a private liberal arts school in an Oakdale in a residential zone with Islip Town special use permits.

Those permits were not transferrable in the property’s sale

Mercury has

applied in January of 2018 to change the zoning of the shuttered 25-acre campus from a residential use “to allow for other uses,”

For a college or educational center

That zoning has not been approved yet

That is why the company is sitting on it

They can’t do anything with it especially with a proposed at a town

It’s so wrong across Long Island there are terrible zoning regulations preventing economic growth this is one of them

jameswritesbest (author) on November 06, 2017:

Thank you for your comments. I remember and enjoyed the Lions Den. Agreed the environment was warm, welcoming and I'll add personal. It's sad Dowling is no more. I'm just hoping it remains a place of learning of some kind and doesn't become a country club or catering hall. That would upset me further.

E Mcconkey on November 06, 2017:

I was a student at Dowling in the mid to late 70,s . I just heard about the closing. It hurts. My father was a Dean, and I remember the extra hours and effort he put in to the school, as well as the professors, other administrators and the staff. They created a warm and welcoming environment. This was during the Robinson (1st) administration. The end of my tenure was during the beginning of the Meskill admin. My father soon left Dowling for a presidency. My father was even one of the originators of the Lions Den. I remember the change in the direction of DC. As with any business you must weigh your decisions carefully, or not. I saw the soul of DC fading away. As well as the potential for a solid bottom line. It pains me that DC went down as dad had built the night school so much and started the first in nation degree for the air traffic controllers. I still have MANY happy memories of DC. and I remember his warnings. I'm just glad that my father is not here to see this.

Dan on September 06, 2017:

I graduated from Dowling in the late 90's and at that time it was doing very well. They were making a lot of money with their education programs, training teachers but unfortunately those programs were largely a scam, not just at Dowling but at other colleges as well. There are very few teacher job openings for the graduates at nearby school systems and the ones faraway that do have openings, pay wages below the poverty level. This has become public knowledge now and fewer people are doing these educational programs that helped fund Dowling. Throw in the costly NAT center where you can only train a limited number of students due to the required resources for flying and you have created a recipe for going bankrupt. They also had a series of presidents in recent years that just seemed to milk the job and failed come up with any viable solutions before bankruptcy was left to be the only option. A very sad situation that it could not be saved. Make no mistake, by the 1990's, until it closed, it had extremely bright and talented professors and provided a top-notch private college education with small class sizes and amazing facilities. Unfortunately money is made by focusing on quantity over quality these days.

Joe 1dot0 on May 13, 2017:

I attended Dowling College for one academic year in the mid-1970's and could not wait to transfer out of that hole after one semester. Both dorm and academic administration were an incompetent joke.

They put a Linguistics teacher in charge of an Algebra class, who couldn't hack it. Complaints ended the class halfway through the semester and they distributed us to two other over loaded sections,or could take "Incompletes" and screw up our progression at no fault of our own .

The dorm was a ghettos. For the spring semester, we waited until mid-February to occupy our chosen apartment because Mike the dorm director would not evict a welfare occupant in time who had no affiliation with the college. The kitchen was crawling with roaches until we left in May, despite repeated visits by exterminated.

I am surprised D.C. lasted the decade, let only 40 more years. Their real purpose in life was to handle drop-downs from SUNY Stony Brook in Junior year when they could not hack their academics.

Consider this bankruptcy and closure a mercy killing and long overdue. Good riddance. There is a God.

Keith M. Dallas on January 30, 2017:

Moving article, James, and I definitely sympathize. It definitely sounds like Dowling's fatal error was "delusions of grandeur." I would be greatly surprised if someone bought the campuses to resurrect the college. As much as it pains me to say it, a catering hall or country club is going to be more profitable than an academic institution... or at least not as expensive to operate.

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