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Selwyn's University Drive property could face foreclosure

The property that once housed the Selwyn School could be foreclosed on, according to a letter sent to Denton ISD earlier this month.

The letter was sent to school district officials on Sept. 6 by Brandon Hurley, an attorney at the Fort Worth-based Kelly Hart law firm. Hurley represents Volunteer Enterprises, a Pilot Point-based company that loaned Selwyn $3.2 million and placed a lien on the private school's property, located at 3333 W. University Drive.

The letter said the school stopped making its loan payments, thus triggering Volunteer's right to foreclose on the property. Hurley did not return requests for comment by press time.

"Please consider this letter the notice of Volunteer's intent to foreclose on its lien rights ... if the entire debt is not paid on or before September 11, 2017," the letter read. A Denton County property records search on Tuesday produced no results showing that debt had been paid.

Where does Denton ISD fit into all this?

The Selwyn  School started as the Denton Civic Boys Choir School in 1957. By 1959, the name changed to the Denton Preparatory School and the headmaster began admitting girls.

To accommodate the extra students, J. Newton Rayzor, a local businessman and education advocate, donated 100 acres of land on West University Drive to the school in 1961. Officials decided to change the name of school to Selwyn, after Rayzor's daughter.

But financial trouble soon followed.

<p><span style="font-size: 1em; background-color: transparent;">Playground equipment and classroom buildings can be seen Monday at the former location of the Selwyn School at 3333 W. University Drive in Denton. The school moved to a new location near Copper Canyon earlier this year.&nbsp;</span><span style="font-size: 1em; background-color: transparent;">The property on which the school formerly stood could be foreclosed on soon by Volunteer Enterprises, a Pilot Point-based company that loaned Selwyn $3.2 million and placed a lien on the private school's property.&nbsp;</span></p>DRC

Playground equipment and classroom buildings can be seen Monday at the former location of the Selwyn School at 3333 W. University Drive in Denton. The school moved to a new location near Copper Canyon earlier this year. The property on which the school formerly stood could be foreclosed on soon by Volunteer Enterprises, a Pilot Point-based company that loaned Selwyn $3.2 million and placed a lien on the private school's property. 

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According to a 1962 document, Selwyn gave the land back to Rayzor. He also agreed to pay an $82,000 debt that Selwyn owed the First State Bank of Denton. 

Rayzor gifted the land back to Selwyn in 1964 but added a clause to the deed that said the property would go to Denton ISD if Selwyn ever stopped operating a school there. The clause also said Denton ISD would inherit all liens and debts associated with the land and Selwyn.

After a fire destroyed the main building in 2012, plans were drawn up for new buildings, but the school lacked funding to see them through.

In March, Selwyn moved to a new location at 2270 Copper Canyon Road, between Denton and Copper Canyon. However, the school still used the West University Drive location up until recently for its outdoor education program and as a pickup and drop-off spot for parents.

Because of the clause in the 1964 deed, Hurley told Denton ISD in his letter that the district's name would be attached to any foreclosure documents. Hurley said the district could either pay the $3.2 million debt and take over the land, or disclaim any interest and relinquish its rights to it. The Denton Central Appraisal District values the property at $3.8 million.

The Denton school board voted after a closed session meeting last week to disclaim their interest and sever ties with the land.

"If we had not exercised our right to do away with that diversionary clause, we would've been foreclosed upon for dollars that we never borrowed, which is not a good use of taxpayer dollars," Denton ISD Superintendent Jamie Wilson said. "Our interest in that property is now completely gone."

What's the big deal with this property?

Once Selwyn established itself in the 1960s, officials saw the need for more buildings and a master plan.

Grass and weeds have begun to overtake the amphitheater at the Selwyn School's former location, as seen here Monday.DRC
Grass and weeds have begun to overtake the amphitheater at the Selwyn School's former location, as seen here Monday.
DRC

John Doncaster, the school's first headmaster, wrote a letter to Denton architect O'Neil Ford. Ford designed the Little Chapel-in-the-Woods on the Texas Woman's University campus and the Tower of the Americas in San Antonio.

Doncaster explained the school's limited finances in his letter and asked for Ford's help. Doncaster's son, Peter, said he still has Ford's response.

"He said something like, 'Yeah, I used to crawl all over those hills. I'd love to help, and just pay me when you can,'" Peter Doncaster told the Denton Record-Chronicle in January.

Ford designed several buildings on campus including the science building, library, dormitories and dining hall. The buildings, adorned with intricate light fixtures and massive windows, remain on the campus today, though many exhibit signs of wear and tear. 

Several preservationists and alumni voiced concern about the West University Drive campus' future when Selwyn announced its move in August 2016. Peter Doncaster tried to secure a historical designation for the Ford buildings but was unsuccessful.

He and a group of volunteers enlisted the help of Texas A&M University's Center for Heritage Conservation in January to document the structures and preserve them through a mix of photography and laser imaging.

Many of the buildings on the former Selwyn School campus were designed in the 1960s by architect O'Neil Ford.DRC
Many of the buildings on the former Selwyn School campus were designed in the 1960s by architect O'Neil Ford.
DRC

"I have a lot of sentimental attachment to this campus," Peter Doncaster said in January. "But I'm glad the school will continue in some fashion."

Selwyn is moving forward at its new campus and seeing some new faces, administrators said. 

In May 2016, Selwyn partnered with an anonymous foundation that finalized the deal for the new location. Head of School Deborah Hof said Selwyn enrolled 25 new students this year, which is roughly half of its total enrollment the previous year.

"Being in an area where the housing market is booming is certainly not hurting us," she said.

Hof said she was unaware of any foreclosure plans for the property on West University Drive, and Selwyn board chairwoman Darcy Loveless didn't respond to requests for comment.

Loveless did say in August 2016 that she was pleased the school would have a more central location in Denton County. She also said the new campus is full of nature and a bit more secluded than the buildings at Selwyn's former location.

"Every person we've taken out [to our new campus] says it feels like Selwyn, even people who have spent years on our [previous] campus," she said.

CAITLYN JONES can be reached at 940-566-6862.

FEATURED PHOTO: Buildings from the Selwyn School at its former location at 3333 W. University Drive in Denton are no longer in use, as seen here Monday. The school moved to its new location near Copper Canyon earlier this year.
Jake King/DRC