St. Thomas More Academy just got a really big gift.
Principal Margaret Lyburn called it a "gift from God" when a Florida businessman donated the former Catoctin Inn & Conference Center to the academy.
"We were shocked," Lyburn said Friday. "I mean, who does that?"
After a short search for a new campus location, school officials announced Friday plans to move into two buildings given to them by Sandy Lankler.
Lankler is the owner of Alexander's at Buckeystown, a restaurant adjacent to the school's new location on Buckeystown Pike.
The restaurant is not closing, but a bed-and-breakfast next to it shut down a while ago.
Lankler, who worked as a lawyer in Washington, now lives in Florida, where he works with the Wounded Warrior program, said restaurant manager Walter McClure.
Lankler wanted to make Buckeystown a Wounded Warrior program location, but his plans did not work out, leaving him with an unused property, McClure said.
When Lankler heard there was a school looking for a property, his plans to give back to those in need found an outlet.
"He's just a guy who wants to give back," McClure said.
Lankler's donation came as a surprise to school officials, who were searching for a new building after the academy sold its old property at 3989 Buckeystown Pike to St. John's Catholic Prep high school in December.
"They needed a larger building and we had one," Lyburn said, noting that St. John's made them an offer they could not refuse.
In December, the academy formed a building committee after its building was sold and the Catoctin Inn & Conference Center was added to a list of possibilities, even though it was not on the market.
"It was not for sale, but they were a neighbor of ours," Lyburn said of Lankler's property.
Education environment experts checked out the building and told school officials that it would be a good location for a new campus, said Ajay R. Patil, president of the academy's board of directors.
"It is absolutely the right space for us," Patil said.
The former conference center will be used as administrative offices and educational space.
Only minor renovations are needed because the space already met a lot of academy needs, according to Patil, who said those savings will be passed along to students.
"I can absolutely say we saw the Holy Spirit at work," Patil said.
The donation will allow the academy to reduce tuition costs. In this case, no property payments means lower overhead costs for the school.
"The faculty and I are especially happy that through this generous gift, we are able to continue all of our current programs, add some new ones, and lower our tuition all at the same time," Lyburn said in a statement Friday.
Students are expected to start school at the former Catoctin Inn & Conference Center in August.
By then, the two buildings will be connected as a part of a construction project.
In addition, sports fields and a playground are to be installed outdoors.
"This new campus is a charming, inspiring reserve for teaching and learning. We look forward to seeing our campus come alive with the wonder of children eager to learn and grow together with nature," Lyburn said in a statement.
There is also a possibility that Alexander's at Buckeystown could assist with the academy's meal program for students.
"We are here and we are in the food and beverage business. I am sure there is a way we could work that out," McClure said.
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