Tuesday October 30, 2012

Almost 10 months ago, we, along with the rest of Vermont (it seemed), were shocked to hear Gov. Peter Shumlin advocate for a new downtown campus for Community College of Vermont and Vermont Technical College.

Last Thursday, that theoretical plan became reality as the State College Board of Trustees unanimously voted to shift the two learning institutions to the Brooks House on Main Street.

And we think it’s a great idea. Consider it the next step in the revitalization of downtown Brattleboro, which has seen it’s fair share of setbacks over the past couple of years - from the Brooks fire to flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene, the Co-op shooting tragedy, and the construction projects which included sidewalk work and newly installed streetlights (and the traffic woes they brought). And don’t forget the recession, and the several businesses which closed their doors for the last time.

This college plan had been on the fast track ever since Shumlin’s announcement, with the Legislature committing about $2 million to the plan during the 2012 session and a series of meetings and site visits that were held in the spring and summer to move the proposal forward. The State College Board and the presumed owners of the Brooks House will now work out details of the lease arrangement, which is expected to include a 20-year agreement with the colleges paying $250,000 annually to use about 18,000 square feet of the historic downtown building.

The developers’ plans include building market rate one- and two- bedroom apartments, office space, retail shops and restaurants, as well as all of the classrooms, offices and the library for the two colleges.

Imagine, students from Marlboro Tech Center, CCV and VTech filling the downtown area, eating and purchasing at local businesses and bringing friends to the area, too. The possibilities seem endless.

And, while we’ve heard some grumbling about downtown parking, we don’t see the issue - there still seems like plenty of areas downtown where folks could be parking, instead of waiting for spaces at the popular locations.

Vermont State College Chancellor Tim Donovan was in Brattleboro last week and said the move will improve the colleges’ presence in the community and he said the move will also have impacts that will be felt across the state.

Too many high school graduates fail to move on to post-secondary schools and Donovan said a robust community college in downtown Brattleboro will open those doors to families who might not think they can afford the experience. He added that businesses across the state are struggling to fill some high tech positions and having modern labs for VTech and CCV will make it easier to train the people to fill those jobs.

"By being downtown we are looking forward to working closely with the local business community to find out what they need," Donovan told the Reformer. "This is a partnership and we expect business leaders to work with us and tell us what they need."

We like the sound of that. Who knows, in a couple of years folks might just start considering Brattleboro a college town.