The Voice: Spring 2003

The Voice

The purchase of the Kuhl farm doubles the campus

By: Sally Jongsma

Arlan Nederhoff, the vice president for business affairs, closed the sale on the land directly south of the Dordt College campus.  Campus buildings are seen in the background.

The Dordt College campus doubled in size over the past year. The college purchased the fifty-five acre Kuhl farm located directly south of campus following a generous stipulation in the will of Harry Kuhl, who passed away in December 2001. Kuhl, who has been Dordt’s neighbor since it was founded, gave Dordt College first option to buy the property at current undeveloped farm prices. In effect that means the college was able to buy the last remaining open land adjoining its campus and received a half-million dollar gift in doing so.

The Kuhl farm was considered prime development land, since houses border its east and west sides. Farmland prices are only a quarter of the price of development land.

“He was gracious in giving us the opportunity to buy at that price,” says President Carl E. Zylstra.

According to Zylstra, most campus buildings and facilities—for the foreseeable future—can be accommodated on the present fifty-five acres, so the Kuhl property gives the college the opportunity to create open areas and green spaces on campus.

“People used to joke that Dordt sat in the middle of cornfields. And it did. But now we won’t be able to see the cornfields,” he says.

The sale was finalized already last fall, but the land continues to be rented to the farmer who worked the land under Kuhl’s ownership.

“This gives us an opportunity to re-conceptualize how the campus will look. We’ve received many plans and proposals with suggestions for what to do with the land,” says Zylstra.” He believes it is unlikely that anything major will happen until after the Jubilee celebration in 2004-05. One exception may be to move some athletic fields to the north edge of the property, making room for a parking lot closer to the B.J. Haan Auditorium. Parking, which was already at a premium, is even tighter after the construction of the Campus Center.

For Zylstra, the Kuhl property does for outside campus space what the new Campus Center does to inside space: gives the college community uncrowded and pleasant areas in which to work and relax. Suggestions for features to consider have included a prairie restoration area, fruit trees, bike and footpaths, and places to sit. But while no planning has begun, Zylstra says the college plans to take seriously Kuhl’s desire not to have the land covered over with pavement and buildings.

Harry Kuhl loved his farm and did not want it sold for development. But even though his lawyer, Dordt College alum Ron Oostra, specifically asked him if he wanted to put restrictions on use of the land if Dordt purchased it, Kuhl repeatedly told his attorney, “I don’t want to tie the college’s hands.” Zylstra appreciates that decision and says
that discussions about what to do with the property will take into account Kuhl’s desire that his land not be sold off for housing development and not be paved over.

“I haven’t talked to anyone who wants to do either of those things,” says Zylstra, noting that the architect designed the Campus Center in a way that opened up large sections of it to the small waterway that runs through the northeast corner of the property.

Other consultants have seen and appreciated the natural features that the Kuhl land contributes to the campus. Dreaming about possibilities, Zylstra says the college may want to consider a south entrance to campus.    

“There’s a beautiful view of campus from the half-mile road south of the property,” Zylstra says as he looks out his window toward the land recently purchased.

And, he says, the college will likely draw the city into discussions about possible cooperative uses for some of the property.