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What will the former Dowling College in Oakdale become? Mercury International's plans are still to be determined.

Updated on December 16, 2018

What will the scenic and historic former Dowling College campus in Oakdale finally become post the sale to Mercury International in 2017? I recently visited Islip Town Hall on December 10th who told me a boarding school, even a place of learning (college/vocational school) is still quite possible as is a Library, Performing Arts Center or Farmers Market. One thing is for sure, the Islip Town Board voted in favor of preserving the Idle Hour Mansion, Performing Arts Center, the water well and the "Love Tree" which is a very old weeping beech, located just east of the mansion.

Being a former graduate of Dowling College from the 1980s, I was happy to learn that Mercury International of Delaware who is affiliated with the buyer of record, Hong Kong based NCF Capital Ltd which purchased Dowling's Oakdale campus in the Fall of 2017 for $26.1 million, had proposed to reopen the historic 25-arces of waterfront property as a place of learning. Oakdale College was a possible alternative, but the buyer changed their plans.

At a Town of Islip meeting held on 6/28/18, the property's new owners requested permits for an assortment of uses. Uses such as; a vocational & non-degree granting school, Office space (non-medical), Social Reception Hall, Dormitory, Theater, Library, Dance Studio, Catering Hall, Famers Market and Mooring Wharf. Needless to say those applications were dismissed by the Town of Islip. The concern was the buyer doesn't have a clear plan. It certainly sounds like it. It seems they can't decide clearly what to do with this historic and postcard perfect property.

The latest development as December 1st, 2018 is; a place of learning is still a possibility either a vocational or boarding school or even a college if they can find a suitable educational partner as Dowling tried in vain to do prior to their closing in August of 2016.

If someone were to tell me you will outlive the college you graduated from, I would not believe them. I'd say, no way, not possible. Well, it did happen to me when Dowling College closed after 48 years (1968-2016).

Dowling's Oakdale campus focal point was the 110-room, 45,000 square feet William K. Vanderbilt summer home later renamed Fortunoff Hall after a former benefactor Alan Fortunoff who paid to restore the mansion after a fire in 1974 badly damaged the historic structure.

The campus was later renamed Rudolph Campus after another wealthy benefactor, Scott Rudolph. To think my college closed because it became saddled with too much debt, $65.8 million to be exact, is sad and shocking.

Why did Dowling close? Likely adding a second 105-acre campus in 1994 in Shirley on Long Island, who's education focus was National Aviation and Transportation was a huge and costly mistake. That campus sold at auction to Triple Five Aviation for $14 million in August of 2018.

In the 1980's when I was a student in Oakdale, Dowling was not able to expand their student dormitories since the Idle Hour historic community would not allow it. As a result, Dowling looked to expand and build that sports facility they didn't have at their campus in Oakdale elsewhere.

So the dormitories and sports facilities were built in Shirley and Dowling over expanded. I though the campus in Oakdale was appealing enough to attract students who had a genuine interest in the Arts, Sciences, Business, Teaching and Aviation. They already had a small fleet of planes, a Rowing, Flying, Tennis, Basketball, Baseball and Lacrosse team. Wasn't that enough? Apparently not.

To think the degree that sits below the workstation I write from is from a middle states accredited college that doesn't exist anymore is sad and downright depressing. To see online both campuses being made available in bankruptcy via separate sealed-bid sales was hard to believe.

I'm was hoping another college or university would buy the Oakdale campus and turn it into what it was meant to be; a college. Or somehow Dowling could have stayed opened if they were only able to find that financially healthy educational partner. However, they weren't able to.

The new property owners are already winners considering the William K. Vanderbilt summer mansion (Fortunoff Hall) alone is valued at $56 million.

NCF Capital Ltd., which operates under the name Mercury International of Delaware had the 2nd highest bid at $26.1. They become the buyer in 2017 and were identified in court documents as "An educational end-user."

I'm somewhat relieved that Dowling will apparently remain a place of learning of some kind and parts of the prime property are now being preserved as landmark preservations. The mansion, performing arts center, the water well as well as what is known as the "Love Tree"; a mature weeping beech that is just east of Idle Hour House will remain.

Credit must be given for the preservation thanks to the efforts of Maryann Almes, President of the Oakdale Historical Society and also to the Islip Town Board that voted in favor to preserve a part of Long Island history.

Both the landmark preservation as well as the real possibility that the Oakdale campus will remain a place of learning, diminishes my sadness slightly.

However, myself, and my fellow alumni will forever feel a sense of loss that Dowling College is no more.


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    • profile image


      13 hours ago

    • jameswritesbest profile imageAUTHOR


      13 months ago

      Thank you for your comments. I remember and enjoyed the Lions Den. Agreed the environment was warm, welcoming and I'll add personal. It's sad Dowling is no more. I'm just hoping it remains a place of learning of some kind and doesn't become a country club or catering hall. That would upset me further.

    • E Mcconkey profile image

      E Mcconkey 

      13 months ago

      I was a student at Dowling in the mid to late 70,s . I just heard about the closing. It hurts. My father was a Dean, and I remember the extra hours and effort he put in to the school, as well as the professors, other administrators and the staff. They created a warm and welcoming environment. This was during the Robinson (1st) administration. The end of my tenure was during the beginning of the Meskill admin. My father soon left Dowling for a presidency. My father was even one of the originators of the Lions Den. I remember the change in the direction of DC. As with any business you must weigh your decisions carefully, or not. I saw the soul of DC fading away. As well as the potential for a solid bottom line. It pains me that DC went down as dad had built the night school so much and started the first in nation degree for the air traffic controllers. I still have MANY happy memories of DC. and I remember his warnings. I'm just glad that my father is not here to see this.

    • profile image


      15 months ago

      I graduated from Dowling in the late 90's and at that time it was doing very well. They were making a lot of money with their education programs, training teachers but unfortunately those programs were largely a scam, not just at Dowling but at other colleges as well. There are very few teacher job openings for the graduates at nearby school systems and the ones faraway that do have openings, pay wages below the poverty level. This has become public knowledge now and fewer people are doing these educational programs that helped fund Dowling. Throw in the costly NAT center where you can only train a limited number of students due to the required resources for flying and you have created a recipe for going bankrupt. They also had a series of presidents in recent years that just seemed to milk the job and failed come up with any viable solutions before bankruptcy was left to be the only option. A very sad situation that it could not be saved. Make no mistake, by the 1990's, until it closed, it had extremely bright and talented professors and provided a top-notch private college education with small class sizes and amazing facilities. Unfortunately money is made by focusing on quantity over quality these days.

    • profile image

      Joe 1dot0 

      19 months ago

      I attended Dowling College for one academic year in the mid-1970's and could not wait to transfer out of that hole after one semester. Both dorm and academic administration were an incompetent joke.

      They put a Linguistics teacher in charge of an Algebra class, who couldn't hack it. Complaints ended the class halfway through the semester and they distributed us to two other over loaded sections,or could take "Incompletes" and screw up our progression at no fault of our own .

      The dorm was a ghettos. For the spring semester, we waited until mid-February to occupy our chosen apartment because Mike the dorm director would not evict a welfare occupant in time who had no affiliation with the college. The kitchen was crawling with roaches until we left in May, despite repeated visits by exterminated.

      I am surprised D.C. lasted the decade, let only 40 more years. Their real purpose in life was to handle drop-downs from SUNY Stony Brook in Junior year when they could not hack their academics.

      Consider this bankruptcy and closure a mercy killing and long overdue. Good riddance. There is a God.

    • profile image

      Keith M. Dallas 

      22 months ago

      Moving article, James, and I definitely sympathize. It definitely sounds like Dowling's fatal error was "delusions of grandeur." I would be greatly surprised if someone bought the campuses to resurrect the college. As much as it pains me to say it, a catering hall or country club is going to be more profitable than an academic institution... or at least not as expensive to operate.


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