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Tiny Chatham gets big addition

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Friday, May 2, 2008

Tiny Chatham University now has the largest campus of any school in Allegheny County thanks to the Eden Hall Foundation, which donated a 388-acre tract in Richland to the college Thursday.

"This campus will be one of the most unique campuses in the country. We envision writers retreats and summer (environmental) camps," Esther Barazzone, president of Chatham since 1992, said at announcement ceremony at which the farm was gifted to the school.

"I think this will catapult Chatham to national attention," she said.

The Richland site is the largest single parcel of privately held land in Allegheny County, said Chatham trustee Sigo Falk. It is 10 times the size of Chatham's campus in Shadyside, which, because it is only 38 acres, limits the school's ability to grow.

"One of the biggest problems we have is space. We have no additional room," said Murray Rust, chairman of the university's board of trustees.

The farm was the summer residence of Sebastian Mueller, a vice president and director of the H.J. Heinz Co. In 1938, the year he died, Mueller willed his entire estate and farm to serve as a retreat for Heinz's working and retired female employees, and for use by other women in the area.

In recent years, the land has fallen somewhat into disuse, said George Greer, president and chairman of the Eden Hall Foundation, who said the foundation considered for several years whether to give the land away. It has been in talks with Chatham for more than a year.

"They will build another campus here that will be green and beautiful," Greer said.

The property includes a house, a conference center with guest rooms, a dining facility, a barn, caretaker's home and several smaller structures.

Under the agreement, at least 100 acres will remain undeveloped.

The value of the land is at least $17.46 million, based on what developers in the area have paid, Greer said.

Chatham's most famous graduate was environmentalist and author Rachel Carson.

"We think the Eden Hill Farm will enable us to advance environmental education through specific additions to our curriculum," Barazzone said. "The possibilities are almost endless."

Chatham was founded as the Pennsylvania Female College in 1869. By 1992, its enrollment, then 500 students, declined so much that consideration was given to closing the school.

In the past 16 years, the school has quadrupled its enrollment to 2,000 by adding graduate and continuing education programs.

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