A small New Hampshire boarding school has signed a purchase agreement for Southern Vermont College’s main Bennington campus.
SVC trustees have accepted a $4.9 million offer from the Pike, New Hampshire-based Oliverian School for the college’s 371-acre parcel on Mansion Drive, according to board chair Dave Newell. Not included in the deal is the 6-acre parcel on Gypsy Lane that includes the Laumeister Art Center.
SVC was one of three Vermont colleges to close this year as the higher education sector contends with steadily declining enrollments. The campus went on the market soon after commencement, and had competition – Green Mountain College in Poultney is also looking for a buyer.
Newell said SVC heard from a few interested parties. Oliverian’s offer was the only “serious” one the college received.
“We had some tire-kickers, but these folks showed that they had the interest and the drive, the motivation to get something done on this. Which was certainly a relief for us,” he said.
Oliverian’s offer was first reported by the Bennington Banner.
The sale isn’t a done deal. Oliverian has a three-month due diligence period to investigate the college’s maintenance costs and to price out what it will need to invest in the property before it can move in. The campus includes 12 buildings, some of which date back to 1911, according to a real estate brochure for the property.
And the sale, if it goes through, still won’t cover all of the school’s outstanding debts, according to Newell, although he declined to say specifically how much the college still owed. David Evans, the college’s former president, said at the time of the college’s closure that it had just shy of $6 million left to pay back on a bond held by Community Bank.
Both Community Bank and the Bank of Bennington, the school’s main creditors, have signed off on the deal with Oliverian, Newell said. So has Frederic Poses, an SVC benefactor who put up $2 million in collateral to finance the bond and is now suing the school to void his donation. Former school employees have all been made whole, SVC officials say.
Oliverian CEO Will Laughlin said the private school’s board of trustees had just decided to start looking for a new campus to relocate to when it got a call about SVC.
Founded in 2004, Oliverian bills itself as a hybrid between a traditional college prep program and a therapeutic school. It charges about $83,000 a year in tuition, according to Laughlin, and enrolls about 50 students in grades 9 through 12.
The school would like to expand into middle school programing, Laughlin said, and to start a college transition program, which would host students in their first year of college who need extra support. Oliverian needed a new location to better accommodate its growth, Laughlin said, and also felt constrained by its rural isolation. The SVC’s campus includes a better mix of access to nature – over 200 acres of the parcel are under a conservation easement – but also “robust community resources,” Laughlin said.
If all goes according to plan, Oliverian will begin operations in Bennington starting in the fall of 2020.
“I’ve been really impressed by the folks I’ve met in Bennington,” he said. “One of the draws has been the sense that it’s a community that cares about its status as a community.”
If you want to keep tabs on Vermont's education news, sign up here to get a weekly email with all of VTDigger's reporting on higher education, early childhood programs and K-12 education policy.