BENNINGTON — Southwestern Vermont Health Care may be the next owner of the former Southern Vermont College campus.
The group submitted a $3.2 million offer for the main campus’ real estate and facilities. Raymond Obuchowski, the bankruptcy trustee overseeing the liquidation of the former college’s assets, filed a motion to approve the sale on Monday.
Interested parties will have until Dec. 7 to make a better offer, he said.
Obuchowski has only received one other offer for the campus, from Moshe Perlstein, who operated a summer camp at the facility over the summer, but the approximately $3 million offer was not completed before a September deadline.
Still, Obuchowski said, “there’s been a lot of interested parties. The bottom line is, parties that may have been in a quandary before, or thinking about it — now it’s time to fish or cut bait, and they need to appear with their checkbook.”
Facilities on the campus include an athletic complex and fields, dormitories, and the historic Everett Mansion, a Preservation Trust of Vermont property. The mansion was built by Edward Everett, whose stepfather was coincidentally the original benefactor of the former Putnam Hospital, which is now Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.
“Southwestern Vermont Health Care (SVHC) realizes how important this property has been to our region and its historical significance,” Thomas Dee, president and CEO of SVHC said in a statement. “The outdoor space and the Everett mansion are treasured assets and should remain accessible to our community.”
Southwestern Vermont Health Care operates primary and specialty care practices in southern Vermont, New York and Massachusetts, including Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington.
In a release, SVMC didn’t specify how it plans to use the campus facilities, but said the athletic fields and network of trails on the property would likely remain open to the public. The sale would not include the Bennington Center for the Arts or the Gate House building.
SVHC contacted Bennington town officials before submitting the offer to “develop together strategies for the former college campus and associated assets,” according to the release.
Judge Colleen Brown, in Bankruptcy Court, will consider all offers at a hearing on Dec. 11. If the SVHC remains the highest bidder and acquires the property, it will work with town officials to develop a long-term plan outlining potential uses of the property. It seeks specifically to provide health-related services for the southern Vermont region.
Selectboard Chair Donald Campbell noted that the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center is located across the street from the former SVC campus, marking an ideal location for the group to expand.
“I think there's a long list of possibilities,” Campbell said about prospective uses. “We have focused a little bit more in our conversations on how we can be a good partner with them in terms of what their needs might be.”
Campbell said he suspects the town could be a good financial partner with the group, should the sale move forward, but doesn’t know what the details of such an agreement would look like.
“We couldn’t make any decisions like that without taking it to the voters or at least having a specific proposal for the board, so we’ll have to wait and see,” he said.
A group of Bennington residents previously encouraged the town to purchase the campus, which Campbell considered ill-advised.
“For the town to own an asset like that, I think, would be very irresponsible,” he said. “Having a partner that we know, and that we trust, and that has the very strong urge to work in the better interest of Bennington is just the ideal situation.”
Perlstein could make another offer, Obuchowski said, but it would rival both the amount of SVHC’s offer and its financial strength.
“It'll be basically coming in with an offer that's showing an adequate ability to be able to perform,” he said. “Essentially, there's always dreamers.”
In late October, Obuchowski filed a complaint with the court stating that Perlstein violated a purchase and sale agreement, which he entered in June, before he held several sessions of a summer camp at the former Southern Vermont College campus.
The complaint states that the summer camp caused “significant damage” to the campus. Damage included altered structural access and doorways, leftover personal property like air conditioners and bunk beds, and damage to the sprinkler system. The complaint requests that the court order Perlstein to pay the $300,000 security deposit for repairs and legal fees.
Southern Vermont College closed in spring 2019 due to financial pressures that resulted in the school’s loss of accreditation by the New England Commission of Higher Education.
It is one of four southern Vermont college campuses to close in recent years. The College of St. Joseph, located in Rutland City, held its final semester in spring 2020, and Rutland City voters recently approved a $1.45 million bond to purchase the athletic center and recreational fields, which will be open for public use. The remainder of the campus has been purchased by Heartland Communities of America, which plans to build a 175-unit assisted living facility, according to the Rutland Herald.
In Poultney, Raj Peter Bhakta, the founder of Whistlepig Whiskey, purchased the former Green Mountain College in August. The college closed in June 2019. He plans to use the 155-acre campus for agriculture.
Marlboro College, located 22 miles west of Brattleboro, was sold in July to the nonprofit Democracy Builders.
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