Miller School of Albemarle has entered about half of its extensive properties near Batesville into a conservation easement that protects it from future development. The move generated $2 million in tax credits that the school will use in the renovation of its main building, Old Main, according to Miller Headmaster Rick France.
Miller School, 138 years old, owns 1,600 acres, 1,120 contiguous with the main campus north of Batesville. Another 480 acres is southeast of the village and is the site of Miller Lake, which supplied water to the school until new wells took over. It is leased to Crown Orchards, who have fruit trees on it.
The school looked at a few options for who might hold the easement and ended up with Land Trust of Virginia, which holds easements on 150 properties across the state.
The 637 acres entered into the easement are the “crown of the campus,” said France. But the central 100 acres with the school’s buildings are not included, making them something of a doughnut hole in the protected area. That’s so that needed changes to the campus can happen. The school is currently building a new entrance road that leads to Old Main’s porte cochere. The current entrance will become exit-only.
The easement has two great benefits, France said. “It means it will always be a school. This cements Samuel Miller’s legacy and preserves the beauty of the campus. We keep the streams, the hills, the trees.
“We also get state tax credits for the easement. As a nonprofit, we can’t use those, so the school sold them. They are potentially $2 million. We’ll use that as the seed money for a capital campaign to renovate Old Main.”
The fourth floor of Old Main was a sleeping garret, unheated, last used in the 1950s, France said. The plan is to renovate the floor into modern dorm spaces.
The school still has a substantial amount of land that could go into a conservation easement and, because three of its buildings are on The National Historic Register, it also has the possibility of historic tax credits.
“It’s all part of a strategic plan for the school,” said Brad Bodager, the school’s development officer. “It’s a thoughtful plan and this is part of implementing it. This will be an important foundation for the campaign.”
“This acreage has been put to use with 14 miles of cycling and equestrian trails the kids built,” he said. That use is allowed to continue and the easement also allows some agricultural uses. France pointed out that Miller School is growing some of its own food and also teaches a course on land management.
The Trust will visit the campus every year to inspect the condition of the easement and ensure compliance with terms.
Miller has its highest enrollment ever, 182 students in five grades, from 16 countries and 12 states. Most students are Virginians. Girls have been enrolled since 1874. France speculated that Miller may be among the oldest coed boarding schools in the country.
“We have good folks who work their hearts out,” said France, who has served as headmaster for seven years and will retire next June. “We’ve increased our number of day students because we get so many good applications. Now, 42 percent of our students are day students.
“We also offer an applied engineering certificate. Students recently built a gazebo with solar panels. Thomas Edison’s original power plant for the school [you read right] will be restored to function soon and students will be learning on the project.