Valleyhead, a school for girls, closes

Thursday, February 26
LENOX — After 40 years of serving young women with emotional issues, the Valleyhead school has closed.

Valleyhead's sprawling 12-acre campus off Reservoir Road is now for sale, and the school ceased operations on Feb. 4. The eight buildings, which include dormitories, classrooms, administration offices and maintenance facilities, are listed for $5.5 million. Two group homes owned by the school on Church Street in the downtown area are also up for sale.

Matthew Merritt, the school's founder and headmaster, could not be reached for comment. A call to the Kinderhook Group realty company, which is handling the listing, was not returned. However, a Town Hall official said on Wednesday that there already is some interest in the Reservior Road complex from another boarding school.

Valleyhead served girls who had a history of learning and emotional difficulties, often the result of traumatic upbringings, including physical and sexual abuse. The students came from across the state and the Northeast, and many were financed by the states.

At times, the school enrolled as many as 59 girls aged 12 to 19. According to the Web site, the school had about a 6-to-1 student to teacher ratio.

A spokesman for Hillcrest Educational Center said Hillcrest has been working with Valleyhead for the past several months to relocate the students to other, similar facilities, as well as trying to find positions for staffers. The last student was relocated a few weeks ago, the spokesman said.

Valleyhead was founded in 1969 by Matthew J. Merritt and J. Anne Merritt.

The school initially took in girls with special needs, and, in the summer, Valleyhead functioned as an inn, open to the public. The Merritts eventually expanded the facility to a year-round school.

In the first few years, the school population was about 48 students. In 1999, the Merritts added another 10 students.

In 2000, Merritt purchased two buildings on Church Street for a combined $350,000.

In 2002, the school opened a group home in the two downtown structures.

There was some controversy at the time, as residents and business owners in the downtown were uncomfortable with the concept of a transitional facility in the town.

That same year, it donated $100,000 to the Lenox Library.

The school overall was a low-key neighbor, seldom involved in Lenox's public affairs.

The exception to that rule was in 1987, when a major fire set by a student destroyed the main school building.

About a year later, the Merritts replaced it with four residential buildings.


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