Brooks House (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer file photo)
Brooks House (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer file photo)
Saturday October 13, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- After months of planning, meetings and site visits, Vermont State College is expected to soon make a decision on a plan to bring a new campus to downtown Brattleboro.

The state college Finance and Facilities Committee is scheduled to meet in Montpelier on Wednesday, Oct. 17, to vote on the Brattleboro project.

State College officials have been considering the Brooks House on Main Street and the former Sanel Autoparts store on Flat Street for a new education center to house classrooms for Community College of Vermont and Vermont Technical College.

Finance and Facilities Committee Chairwoman and Brattleboro resident Martha O'Connor said that her committee is likely to back one of those proposals on Wednesday, and then pass that recommendation on to the full state college board for final approval on Thursday, Oct. 25.

"I think it is time to vote on this," O'Connor said. "We have all been through a lot on this one and I think it is likely the committee will move it on to the full board."

The full board might need more information before voting on the plan, or it could give final approval to help the building owners move the project along.

Gov. Peter Shumlin chose O'Connor to head a search committee to help the State College Board find a suitable location for the new downtown campus. Over the past few months O'Connor has walked officials through both locations.

The state has already committed about $2 million in appropriations and potential borrowing to back up the plan, and now the owners of both buildings are waiting to see which location will be chosen.


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The college has not yet released a final budget for the downtown campus.

"We are very excited about having a more modern facility that will allow us to have a greater presence in the southeastern part of the state," said CCV President Joyce Judy. "There is good momentum and we are making progress in choosing a location."

A fire ripped through the historic Brooks House in April 2011 and the important downtown landmark has been vacant ever since.

Bob Stevens of Stevens & Associates and Craig Miskovich, an attorney at Downs Rachlin Martin, announced earlier this year that they would be leading an investment team Mesabi LLC, to purchase the Brooks House from Jonathan Chase.

The team, which also now includes Ben Taggard, Drew Richards and Pete Richards, hope to rebuild the Brooks House with the state college as an anchor tenant.

Stevens & Associates Spokeswoman Allyson Wendt said that Mesabi architects have been working closely with the state college administration to make sure the Brooks House has the space and facilities to meet the colleges' needs.

"We've been talking to college administrators about terms and conditions that might be acceptable for them to come rent from us and what they need to make this work," Stevens said. "We're excited to see what the results are of the finance committee meeting, and then of the board meeting which is coming up right after that where they will be making a final decision."

When Stevens went before the Brattleboro Development Review Board last month, he said that developers hope to add two floors to a building behind the main hotel structure for the college.

Stevens said if the college ends up moving to the Sanel building, then those plans would likely be changed while the rest of the Brooks House project would proceed.

Brooks House developers hope to get their financing in place by the end of this year and start construction early in 2013.

Emerson's Furniture owner Peter Johnson purchased the former Sanel building at 47 Flat St. earlier this year before Shumlin started pushing for the downtown state college campus.

Johnson also said college officials have been touring the site and talking with him about the plan.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com or at 802-254-2311 ext. 279.