We have a lot to celebrate this summer! Along with new land acquisitions, some of which are still in the works, we’re delighted to announce that OCT has a new home. After operating for many years out of inadequate donated office space, we are now acquiring, on very favorable terms, a real headquarters that will answer all our current needs and create opportunities for the Trust to grow into the future.
Why are venturing beyond our core mission of acquiring land for conservation to make this purchase? That’s an important question and one we wrestled with, so here is some background. As you may know, we’ve been engaged since late last year in a strategic planning process—the final plan will be presented at our upcoming Annual Meeting. Perhaps the most striking realization to emerge from that process was how handicapped OCT has been by our current office situation. (We occupy space on the second floor of the Santander Bank building generously donated by the bank.)
Imagine a Venn diagram showing how key areas of concern overlap: organizational infrastructure, human resources, public outreach, fundraising, and land acquisition/ management. As we considered each of these, it became clear that “office and meeting space” was a critical point of overlap. The Trust isn’t as well known to the public as we should be, in part because we have no visible, physical presence in Orleans. We lack adequate working space for our director, part-time staff, interns, and volunteers; a place where volunteers can be trained in land management techniques; and room to store our files and large equipment. We must observe bank hours, curtailing work and meeting time. We can’t invite the public to our headquarters. Finally, every other land trust we interviewed during our research emphasized the importance of a brick-and-mortar headquarters in effective fundraising.
As this picture clarified, we formed an action group to draw up a set of characteristics to guide us in seeking new office space, and then begin looking at possible locations. At first we imagined it would make the most financial sense to lease space, at least in the short term, while we continued to explore long-term solutions. For various reasons, this didn’t prove to be the case: Rents were high for anything near the center of town, and all the spaces we saw would have required costly modification to suit our needs.
We also looked at properties for sale that met our criteria. One had just come on the market: a location at 203 South Orleans Road that had been a mortgage brokerage, a medical practice, and a residence. It had a highly visible site (on .79 acre), a building that could accommodate our range of uses, and an attractively low asking price.
At that point, the realities of real estate immediately exerted pressure: as anyone who has purchased or sold property knows, time is of the essence. Especially when the price is low (as it rarely is in our town), it’s all about moving quickly. We’re fortunate in having among our Trustees several with directly pertinent experience, and the board kept in close touch over these weeks with numerous ad hoc meetings, phone conferences, and email exchanges. We scrutinized our financial resources, sought legal advice and counsel from others involved with OCT, and then made a below-asking offer that was accepted. The clincher: with low-interest interim financing, we could own this asset for a monthly payment significantly less than a likely rent on comparable space.
A few details: The property, just south of Crystal Lake at the corner of Old Timers’ Lane, fronts on Route 28; our “Orleans Conservation Trust” sign will be seen by all who travel this main route. The Cape-style building is structurally sound (the inspector was impressed) and in virtually turnkey condition for move-in, with office and meeting space on two floors and a huge basement for storage. There’s ample parking in front and a large yard where we can grow native plants and conduct training programs, with a big shed for our heavy equipment. We will need to make some improvements for ADA compliance, at a fairly modest cost.
As things currently stand, we have signed a purchase agreement and anticipate a closing by the end of August, with an office move in early fall. A key milestone was securing an exemption from residential zoning restrictions as an “educational organization.” In the course of providing documentation to the Town in support of this designation, it became clear how far OCT has evolved from an organization that just saves land to one that educates the public about why and how we do it.
We’ll share more details as they emerge—including targeted fundraising opportunities to support this and other acquisitions. At the Annual Meeting, you’ll hear a presentation about the new headquarters and all that it promises for building a sustainable future for the organization. We’ll gladly answer questions, then and in the meantime. Soon after move-in, we hope to host an open house for members and the public.
This move makes sense for OCT at this point in our history. We believe that our mission, and our members, will start to experience its benefits both sooner and later.
Thank you, as always, for your support.