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It's time to buy the farm. In the latest step of an ongoing controversy, a coalition of conservation groups, community members and state legislators submitted a proposal yesterday to purchase a University-owned farm in Bucks County. The group had until today to make its offer. Penn put the 211-acre Gutman farm in Upper Makefield Township up for sale last month, asking $5.5 million for the property. The University received the farm in the mid-1970s from the estate of financier Monroe Gutman for use as an arts center. Neighbors fear that a developer may buy the land, changing the character of the wealthy, rural area. Two developers have submitted offers for the property, but Penn officials declined to comment on those bids. Coalition officials also refused to discuss the details of their bid, including the size of the offer, citing a confidentiality agreement with the University. Penn officials said they hadn't yet seen the proposal. "We have found great support from throughout the area," said Cliff David Jr., president of the Heritage Conservancy, a nonprofit Bucks County organization heading the coalition and chipping in $50,000 toward buying the property. The group has received support from several local legislators, including U.S. Rep. James Greenwood (R-Pa.) and State Rep. David Steil (R-Bucks). "We're just hoping the University finds the offer we're presenting to them acceptable to their needs," David added. Although David said he hopes the University will make a decision "sometime next week," University spokesperson Ken Wildes said "there's no real timetable" for choosing whether to sell the land to a developer or the group. But the fates of the farm and the township aren't the only things at stake. University officials are concerned that Graduate School of Fine Arts Dean Gary Hack may leave the University if his underfunded school doesn't receive a sizable portion of the proceeds from the farm sale, according a coalition member. In a private meeting last month, Vice President for Government, Community and Public Affairs Carol Scheman and University Treasurer Scott Lederman told coalition leaders that Penn recruited Hack "with promises of additional funding for his programs," according to Stan Arabis, chairperson of Upper Makefield's Environmental Advisory Committee. Scheman said she has "no memory of any such conversation." But she stressed that "all faculty such as Dean Hack are in fact in demand like that." "Gary Hack is a preeminent guy in his field and can write his own ticket anywhere," Scheman said, adding that the GSFA "really needs more support" in terms of funding. Hack, an urban design expert, was hired by the University last year after heading a similar program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for several years. Arabis said he believes University officials wanted to sell the property quickly last month, rather than by engaging in private negotiations with neighbors over a longer period, so they could "deliver on the promises they made" to Hack. Hack didn't return repeated telephone calls for comment yesterday. But several GSFA administrators said he has no plans to leave the University, regardless of the outcome of the farm sale. Gutman's estate donated the farm to the University upon his death in 1975. Located about 30 miles northeast of University City, it flourished for a decade as a center for about a dozen Fine Arts graduate students, who converted several barns on the property into studio space. Officials cut the program in the mid-1980s to save money. The University and Jackson-Cross, the real-estate firm handling the deal, originally set an October 29 deadline for offers on the property. Penn extended that deadline initially to November 21 and then to today in response to requests from the coalition.

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