Mayor of tiny town by imploding college never saw it coming

Sweet BriarSweet Briar/YouTubeSweet Briar college

Last Tuesday, Sweet Briar College sent shock waves throughout the world of academia with news that it would close its doors after the current semester.

The 114-year old all-female liberal arts college announced the news via its school website, citing financial difficulties. But current students, faculty, and alumnae aren’t the only ones feeling the impact of the announcement.

The broader community is also struggling with news of the closure.

“The first reaction from the community was of shock, and disbelief probably … We just didn’t realise that it was that serious or even close to being that serious,” Paul Kilgore, mayor of nearby Amherst, told Business Insider.

Sweet Briar, Virginia is an unincorporated community with a population of 860 that it is comprised, almost exclusively, of students and faculty of Sweet Briar College. Amherst, Virginia, which is four miles away, has just 2,231 residents and relies on Sweet Briar for much of its commerce.

Mayor Kilgore spoke about the aftermath of the news and reactions within the Amherst community. Although there has been intermittent discussion about Sweet Briar College’s financial problems throughout the years, Kilgore said the closure was completely unexpected.

“I don’t think it ever crossed anybody’s minds that it would close to be honest with you,” Kilgore said.

The impact of the closure could be tough on Amherst. “They are our biggest utility user and customer,” the mayor said, noting that Sweet Briar utilizes 28% of Amherst’s sewage system and 22% of its water. The college also provides 350 jobs.

While the mayor recognised the business impacts of the college’s closing, he was quick to point out that it would also be personally devastating for people close to the college.

“It’s somewhat of a glancing blow to us,” said Kilgore, who works as a real-estate agent. “It really affects those folks who’ve worked their entire lives up there. Who’ve committed to four years of school up there and now have to find other places to go.”

The closure will be particularly devastating for a friend of Kilgore, a 90-year-old retired facilities director of Sweet Briar college, who, along with his wife, a retired athletic director of the college, got housing as part of a retirement deal.

“They had a house on campus that was basically theirs for the rest of their life,” Kilgure said. “And they got a notice they have got to be out at the end of August.”

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