BENNNINGTON — A couple interested in returning the Gate House on the former Southern Vermont College campus to residential use has entered a $320,000 bid for the property.
Kenneth Milman said he and his wife, Bridget Elder, have admired the stone Gate House building at 897 Monument Ave. — located at the entrance drive into the 371-acre former college campus.
“We felt if we didn’t try to buy it, we would regret it,” Milman said Monday.
Milman has filed the offer with Raymond Obuchowski, the bankruptcy trustee representing the college corporation estate in Chapter 7 proceedings in U.S. Bankruptcy Court-Vermont.
The offer, which Obuchowski certified as qualified in a filing with the court, is $20,000 higher than the $300,000 Southwestern Vermont Health Care offered Nov. 20.
Earlier, SVHC offered $3.2 million for the rest of the main campus, which is being disposed of separately through the bankruptcy process.
Officials with the health care organization could not be reached Monday for comment on the Milman offer. They have not specified a potential use for the property.
However, if the SVHC offer for the campus is successful, officials with the health system have said they would partner with the town and “conduct a thorough assessment and develop a short- and long-range plan for the property.”
They said they’ve approached Bennington officials “to explore opportunities and develop together strategies for the former college campus and associated assets.”
‘HIGHER OR BETTER’
Potential bidders must submit a “higher or better” offer for either the Gate House or the main campus to Obuchowski by Dec. 7, prior to a court hearing on the offers on Dec. 11.
When putting forth an offer, the parties must show they have the financial resources to complete a purchase, the trustee has said.
Once at the hearing, higher bids can be offered in a bidding process before the court. Offers at that time would have to rise by at least $10,000 at a time for the Gate House and by at least $50,000 for the main campus.
HOME IN BENNINGTON
Milman said that after living in Brooklyn, N.Y., for many years, he is now “happily retired.”
The couple purchased a home on Imperial Avenue in Bennington in 2018, he said.
He and his wife are “very familiar with the area,” Milman added, with relatives in the Cheshire, Mass., area.
The stone Gate House is constructed in the same style as the historic 27-room, stone-walled Edward Everett Mansion on the campus, which was built during 1911-14. It sits on 2.28 acres at the entrance to the curving driveway up to the mansion at the base of Mount Anthony.
As SVHC officials have noted, the original benefactor of the former Putnam Hospital — now Southwestern Vermont Medical Center — was Henry Putnam. He had two children, Henry Putnam Jr. and his stepson, Edward Everett.
The Gate House was owned separately from SVC for many years before being donated to the college for use as an admissions office. Milman said the renovation at that time primarily created office space and would need new work to convert that back for residential use.
The Gate House was donated by former owners and major SVC supporters and graduates, Ira and Marcia Wagner. They had renovated the building about seven years ago for use by the college.
Obuchowski has noted there were deed covenants that went with the donation of the Gate House to the college, including on how it could be sold or transferred, which he said he’s working to resolve.
A few years after the Gate House donation, the college found itself struggling with debt and declining student enrollment, and in 2019 with the possible loss of the school’s accreditation from the New England Commission of Higher Education.
SVC closed in May 2019, following the final graduation on the lawn of the Everett Mansion. It was one of several small private colleges in Vermont and a larger number nationwide to succumb during that period because of similar enrollment and/or debt issues.
The SVC board of trustees in August voluntarily entered the college corporation into the Chapter 7 process, which oversees the sale of real estate and other assets and settling of debts if possible.