Lees-McRae Board of Trustees Chair Parker Grubbs, Children's Hope Alliance President Celeste Dominguez, and Lees-McRae President Lee King

Lees-McRae purchases Grandfather Home property from Children’s Hope Alliance

Lees-McRae has signed an agreement with Children’s Hope Alliance (CHA) to take ownership of 475 acres of land held by the non-profit in Banner Elk, North Carolina. The purchase will allow for higher main campus enrollment and will expand the college’s ability to offer superior experiential learning opportunities.

Included in the sale agreement are the Grandfather Home facilities, which can house more than 100 students and contain additional space for classrooms and offices, several hundred acres of forested land, and ownership of Wildcat Lake. By adding this property to the existing Lees-McRae campus, the institution will be able to serve more students, create vibrant living and learning communities, conserve precious natural resources, and continue to serve the community by working closely with the town of Banner Elk. 

“The responsibility to safeguard this property is not one that we take lightly,” said Lees-McRae President Lee King. “While the ownership of the land is changing, it will continue to be used for its purpose—education of and service to our community. Our motto, ‘In, Of, and For the Mountains,’ will continue to guide us as we plan for new programs and opportunities that best serve our growing student body.”

INEXPRO 2030, the college’s strategic plan, lays out five core strategies designed to build on the institution’s current strengths. The Grandfather Home property increases the college’s ability to focus on distinctive majors like Outdoor Recreation Management and Wildlife Biology by taking advantage of access to the lake and surrounding forest. Student-athletes will benefit from the property’s proximity to the college athletic facilities, and the gymnasium located at Grandfather Home will provide additional wellness opportunities.

The move-in ready buildings on the Grandfather Home property allow the college to move forward with its core strategies immediately, without waiting on additional construction. The additional residence spaces will be available to students starting with the Fall 2022 semester.

“Today’s announcement extends what has been a long and positive relationship between Children’s Hope Alliance and Lees-McRae College,” explained Celeste Dominguez, CHA President and CEO. “As a trusted community partner in Banner Elk from our earliest days, we are confident Lees-McRae will continue to put this treasured land to its best use, while allowing CHA to enhance our mission, grow our services more quickly and expand our reach more broadly. We are excited about the possibilities ahead for at-risk children and families across North Carolina.”

By moving to a support model that keeps children in their homes, CHA aims to serve ten times as many local children by 2030. The sale of Grandfather Home will provide the financial resources to make that possible.

This acquisition has the dual benefit of providing for the college’s future growth while rooting the institution more deeply in its own history. Lees-McRae College and Grandfather Home for Children were once a single entity, founded by Reverend Edgar Tufts to address the needs of local children. The school, which opened as the Elizabeth McRae Institute in 1900, taught students through high school and included a dormitory for female students. Starting in 1914, Grandfather Home took in and educated children who had no parents or relatives to care for them. Eventually, ownership of Grandfather Home for Children passed to CHA, who continued to support at-risk children in the High Country.

Lees-McRae and CHA signed the agreement on Monday, March 21 at the CHA office in Barium Springs, North Carolina. The two organizations publicly announced the sale at a joint assembly held in Hayes Auditorium on the Lees-McRae campus. A celebration to honor the agreement will be held at a later date.  

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