BRATTLEBORO -- The Vermont State College Finance and Facilities Committee has chosen the Brooks House as the future site for a new downtown campus for Community College of Vermont and Vermont Technical College.
The Finance and Facilities Committee met in Montpelier Wednesday afternoon and unanimously voted to recommend the Brooks House as the new home of an 18,000-squarefoot education center which will include classrooms, offices, a library and a multifunction room. The Finance and Facilities Committee will pass its recommendation on to the full Board of Trustees, which is expected to make a final decision at its Oct. 25 meeting next week.
Martha O'Connor, chairwoman of the Finance and Facilities Committee and a member of the Board of Trustees, said the committee made its decision after numerous meetings with the Brooks House development team and visits to the property.
"The endorsement by this committee is one step, but a big step," she said. "It's expected that the full board will vote on this next week."
While some terms are still under negotiation, annual rent of $250,000 for 10 years and two five-year options has been agreed upon.
This means Brooks House could be the location for colleges for the next 20 years.
"As the chairwoman of this committee and as a Brattleboro resident, this project is exciting," said O'Connor. "It still has to be voted on, but I fully anticipate that this will happen."
Shumlin said he was excited about the decision and was looking forward to meeting with lawmakers next year to continue working to come up with the funding to move the project along.
"This is going to be a huge boost for downtown Brattleboro," Shumlin said Wednesday after the committee vote. "I am thrilled that the Brooks House is going to be a vibrant hub for innovation and education."
Shumlin acknowledged that it is going to take some extra work to find the money for the project, but he said investing in the college made even more sense in light of the ongoing economic downturn.
"CCV and Vermont Tech do more than anyone to get first generation Vermont college students the education they need to compete and to meet the needs of employers who are trying to fill high paying positions in their companies," Shumlin said. "I know we are in tough economic times but that does not mean we can't make allocations toward education and toward creating jobs. It would be penny wise and pound foolish not to make this investment in the future of southern Vermont."
Bob Stevens, of Stevens & Associates, is also a partner in Mesabi LLC, the investment group that is trying to develop the Brooks House.
The historic downtown property was damaged during a fire in April 2011 and Mesabi LLC wants to reopen the stores and apartments in the Main Street property. The State College was a crucial piece of the investment group's plans, Stevens said.
"This is a huge step. I can't say enough how important this was to make it all happen," Stevens said. "We're really pleased the Finance Committee came forward for this project and we hope the whole board looks at it the same way so we can go to the next step."
Stevens said the complicated project, which is expected to cost about $18 million, would have been much more challenging without the college as a tenant.
"A lot of the financing is contingent on being able to make assurances that we have tenants to lease the space, and we needed this step to happen," he said. "It feels very good to have this part approved. It has been a long time leading up to this."
Mesabi is trying to rent the stores and apartments and hopes to begin construction in early 2013.
They hope to open the first units by the end of the year.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at email@example.com or at 802-254-2311 ext. 279.