Nonprofits and Their Buildings: Sometimes it’s Time to Part

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July 1, 2012; Source: Wall Street Journal

In New York, the 112-year-old Xavier Society for the Blind has decided to sell the 16,000-square-foot building it has done business out of for 60 years. The asking price is $13 million on the brownstone that was originally purchased for $55,000 in 1948.

The Xavier Society has produced Braille and large-print books and recorded audio material for the blind and people with impaired vision and its building served as a library for spiritual texts for the blind. With the advent of technology the call for these services has declined, though not completely disappeared.

Father Sheehan who serves as the chair of the Xavier Society board of directors says, “When the Kindle came out, the blind community was so excited… Finally a blind person could get the same book at the same time, at the same price, as a sighted person.”

But Sheehan acknowledges that some have not made the transition to digital books. “We have a lot of older clients who are computer illiterate, and we’re not going to abandon them,” he said. Sheehan also described the pain of recently letting staff go. “We let nine go, all told, and together they had given 130 years of service… That’s a deep and abiding friendship.”

Father Sheehan says he has no attachment to the building’s future use. “It sounds callous, but once the check clears, I don’t care what they do,” comments the good father, who is also blind. “I would be upset if it were the Francis Xavier massage parlor, but otherwise I am much more interested in what we can do to serve the blind community than what happens to this building.”

NPQ wishes that more nonprofits were in a position to make this kind of move when they find that their buildings are tying them down rather than optimizing what they can do programmatically.—Ruth McCambridge

  • Sylvia Anderson

    Thank you for your comments. We too, after 20 years in our present location, are in the process of relocation. We provide work skills development and emploiyment opportunities to adults with disabiliaties. Our location has served us well. However, it is time to position our “services” so that we can continue to provide supports to our clients. Reduction in state dollars, the dirction of services to more independent community employment no longer necessitates such a large facility. After several years of reducing staff, reducing benefits and wages, it is time to look for other ways to reduce costs and provide quality services to individuals who are deserving of those supports. Meeting the needs of our clients far outways the need for a facility that is not being used to its maximum.

  • Polly Lyman

    A correction from the Xavier Society website FYI

    “NOTICE – JULY 2nd – In today’s Wall Street Journal there is a story about the Xavier Society for the Blind. I haven’t read it – it’s in the Metropolitan section, so it’s not in the edition here in Dallas and I can’t read it online – a couple of mistakes I’ve already heard about – I’m not blind, and we’ve been in business for 112 years, not 60 – I look forward to reading the rest at some point. But check it out anyway if you are in the New York area or you can get to it online. (Father John)”

  • ruth

    Thank you,Polly, for passing along the correction. I will say that the WSJ article that I read did say that the organization had been in business for112 years but only in the building for 60 (as I repeated) but it did say Father John was blind. Our apologies for rerunning an error. We are dependent on our sources when doing the newswire. Anyway see if this link works for you to look at the article directly