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Star Lake campus will be sold for camp

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STAR LAKE — A sale is pending of Houghton College’s Star Lake campus for use as a Christian youth camp and as a retreat and recreational center.

The transaction to a group headed by Thomas M. Buckingham, Severna, Md., who has ties to Star Lake, is expected to close by mid-January. The property has been renamed The Haven at Star Lake.

“Star Lake has created many great memories for my family since the 1930s when my great-grandmother first bought a camp on the shores of the lake,” Mr. Buckingham, executive director of The Haven at Star Lake, said in a statement. “It is our goal to use this wonderful facility in order to build memories for others, a legacy that outlasts us all.”

Neither Houghton College officials nor Mr. Buckingham would reveal the sale price until the closing. It originally was listed for $799,000.

Most recently, the 40-acre property has been used as a satellite educational facility specializing in environmental studies for Houghton College, which shut it down in 2009 and put it on the market.

The Willard J. Houghton Foundation purchased the campus for $425,000 in 2001 from Potsdam Auxiliary and College Educational Services, a private corporation that supports programs at SUNY Potsdam.

Houghton, a Christian school in Allegany County, later decided it wanted to limit the amount of real estate it had. A sale to William C. Stief, then a physician at Clifton-Fine Hospital, was scrapped in 2010.

Mr. Buckingham’s father, John C. Buckingham, grew up at Star Lake but eventually sold the original family camp. Mr. Buckingham said he and his brother bought a different camp on the lake seven years ago and were aware of the history of the campus property. Last summer, family members visited it.

“We saw the potential,” Mr. Buckingham said. “We saw a common vision for it. We’re all devout Christians and we wanted to do something for others.”

Mr. Buckingham and his wife, his sister-in-law, Karen Kuhn, and her husband, and her daughter, Teresa von Riegen, and her husband will buy the property, most likely under a limited liability corporation, and establish a nonprofit to manage it. The property will remain on the tax rolls, Mr. Buckingham said.

After the sale closes, the corporation will seek permits from the Adirondack Park Agency and other agencies to allow its use as a camp and recreational center.

The campus has more than 15 buildings and 300 feet of waterfront.

“The college has maintained it very well,” Mr. Buckingham said. “It doesn’t require a sizable investment to get it operational.”

The group will start off small and build the number of employees as services expand.

“We don’t have a realistic number yet. Ultimately we’d like it to be open year-round or at least 10 months of the year,” Mr. Buckingham said. “We’ll see how things unfold.”

Mrs. Kuhn plans to move up to provide on-site management.

“The rest of us will spend extended time up there,” Mr. Buckingham said. “We’re excited about the opportunity.”

Some activities might begin this summer, but the children’s camp likely will not open before 2014.

Retired from the Navy, Mr. Buckingham said he plans to reach out to the military to promote use of the facility as a way for a veteran to reconnect with family members after a deployment. The campus also could be a venue for weddings and banquets.

James M. LaValley, broker/owner of LaValley Real Estate and the agency responsible for brokering the transaction, said in a statement, “We are pleased to have played a role in this transaction. We are confident that the new owners will continue to provide the highest level of care for this special property and will become active members of the Star Lake community.”

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