BENNINGTON — Southwestern Vermont Health Care officials are considering new uses for the former Southern Vermont College campus — everything from expanding day care options to converting the Everett Mansion into tourist lodging.
For now, the primary focus of the organization is on completion of the $28 million emergency department expansion currently under construction, according to Public Information Officer Ray Smith.
Smith and Kevin Dailey, SVHC’s vice president of administration and chief human resources officer, said hospital officials were pleased to learn that Vermont’s U.S. senators have earmarked more than $800,000 in federal funding toward an expansion of the hospital’s child care services. They said an SVHC proposal to expand child care was among many submitted to the lawmakers for possible 2022 federal funding earmarks, and it emerged among those proposals making the list.
More than $200 million was earmarked for all projects around the state. For the SVHC proposal, Leahy earmarked $750,000 in his funding requests, and Sanders earmarked $77,000.
The proposal is to expand the Learning Tree Child Care facility, which is currently at the medical center and licensed for 59 child care spots. The new plan would move the center to a new facility with double the capacity on the 371-acre former college campus.
“This is exciting,” Smith said of the funding earmarks, “and we are definitely exploring significantly increasing the capacity for child care.”
But he and Dailey cautioned that, as with other proposals SVHC is considering for the campus property, there “is no formal plan” and no cost figures have been developed. In addition, they said, SVHC officials haven’t yet heard details of how the federal 2022 appropriations funding will be distributed and whether there might be restrictions or guidelines that would have to be weighed.
Of the earmarks for possible funding, Dailey said, “All it means is that now we can apply for a grant.”
That will require preliminary architectural plans, he said, along with approval from the SVHC board of trustees to proceed.
The officials said discussions have begun with an architect and proposed sites for a child care facility are being evaluated. A location along Monument Avenue is considered the most feasible.
“The wheels are in motion, and that’s the direction we are hoping to head,” Dailey said of pursuing grant.
SVHC purchased the former college property during an auction process in bankruptcy court in December 2020 for $4.65 million. Since then, redevelopment suggestions from the public and other stakeholders were solicited.
SVHC has identified child care services expansion; use of the Everett Mansion as a hospitality venue; additional medical services facilities, as well as new or improved hiking trails; a viewing tower atop Mt. Anthony on the property; and other lodging- or recreation-oriented projects as priorities.
Plans for the Everett Mansion or other campus sites for tourist lodging or hospitality purposes must await changes to town land use and development regulations to allow such uses in the institutional/professional zoning district.
The zoning district would be expanded to include parts of the former college campus, and would add hotels, lodging, outdoor recreation and related development projects to the list of allowed uses in the district with Development Review Board approval.
The institutional/professional district now includes the medical center campus, the Mount Anthony Union High School campus and the Vermont Veterans’ Home grounds.
The proposed changes would allow lodging facilities in the district west of Monument Avenue.
The Everett Mansion itself is under historic preservation easement restrictions through the Preservation Trust of Vermont, which would have to be considered in any reuse project. In addition, nearly 200 mostly wooded acres behind the mansion at the base of Mt. Anthony are under conservation restrictions through an easement held by the Vermont Land Trust.
The stone-walled mansion was built as a summer home in 1911-14 by industrialist Edward Everett. Southern Vermont College acquired and moved onto the property during the 1970s from another location in Bennington.
The campus of the former college, which closed in 2019, includes a dozen buildings in all.
The land use changes were unanimously approved earlier this month by the Planning Commission and now are before the Select Board for review.
“Our top priority now is the zoning change,” Dailey said, “and how that plays out will dictate what our options are.”
Town Planning Director Daniel Monks said the board has scheduled public hearings for May 9 and May 23 on the proposal, which will take place before any vote on land use amendments.
The proposed changes are posted on the town website.
The medical center had been using the parking area near the 27-room Everett Mansion for a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site during the height of the pandemic, but those services are moving to the SVC athletic facility further down the entrance drive.
COVID-19 vaccinations, which were provided during clinics at the athletic center, are being shifted to the Express Care center on the medical center campus and to local pharmacies and physician offices, the officials said.