BENNINGTON — Both the 371-acre Southern Vermont College campus and the Gate House building at the entrance drive appear on course to be sold following judicial orders filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court-Vermont Division.
Judge Colleen Brown has approved orders allowing the sale of the campus and buildings to Southwestern Vermont Health Care before January and for the separate sale of the Gate House building on 2.28-acres on Monument Drive to Kenneth Milman of Bennington.
Raymond Obuchowski, the court-appointed trustee representing the estate of the former college, which closed in May 2019, said earlier this week that no appeals or objections had yet surfaced that might slow or halt the sales.
SVHC, the corporate parent of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, offered $4.65 million for the campus during a bidding process held before the bankruptcy court on Dec. 11.
At that time, the health care organization outbid Moshe Perlstein, of New Jersey, a youth camp operator who held two camps for teens on the campus over the summer, and businessman and investor Paul Belogour and his Vermont RE Development, LCC.
Perlstein dropped out of the bidding at $4.6 million, while Belogour stopped bidding at $3.95 million.
The court session was scheduled after SVHC in mid-November offered $3.2 million for the campus. The two others later qualified as bidders by entering “higher of better” offers prior to an early December deadline set by Obuchowski; each initially offered $3.25 million.
On Dec. 11, Obuchowski also sought an order requiring removal of a considerable amount of personal property belonging to Perlstein from the campus prior to Dec. 28, which the judge also has approved in an order.
SVHC is seeking to close on the property before the new year to prevent a lapse of insurance on the campus and to ensure the gymnasium building is heated.
The personal property left behind by the camp included more than 100 air conditioners, bunk beds and mattresses; basketball hoops, benches, tables and other items left following youth camps in July and August for Jewish Orthodox teens from the New Jersey and New York City area.
The process of removing the personal property began this week, Obuchowski said Tuesday evening.
When he concluded an agreement with the former SVC board of trustees in mid-June to occupy the campus for youth camps, Perlstein also secured an agreement to purchase the campus for $3.15 million.
In August, the situation changed when the college board voluntarily entered Southern Vermont College Inc. in the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process and Obuchowski was named to oversee the liquidation of real estate and other assets.
In October, Obuchowski said Perlstein had failed to complete the campus purchase by an expiration date in the agreement, and the campus then became available for new offers.
A RESIDENCE AGAIN
Milman was the only bidder for the Gate House property during the Dec. 11 court hearing, offering $320,000 for the building at 897 Monument Ave., which most recently was used as the SVC admissions building but formerly was a private residence for many years.
Milman said he and his wife, Bridget Elder, intend to renovate the structure to convert it back to a private residence.
SVHC had previously put in an offer of $300,000 for the Gate House, but declined to enter an additional higher offer on Dec. 11, leaving Milman’s bid as the final sale price.
Judge Brown also has approved consent agreements to allow the sale to proceed, which Obuchowski had worked out with secured creditors of the former college, including Community Bank, which holds a mortgage and is owed more than $5 million; major SVC donor Frederic Poses, who put up $2 million to secure a loan the college took in 2011 to finance new construction on campus; Vermont Mill Properties, which is owed for classroom space leased by the college in the Benmont Avenue mill, and SVC Funding, LLC, associated with former SVC trustees, which provided money to the college just prior to the May 2019 closure.
After payment of real estate commissions and other sale-related costs and taxes and other debts owed the town, the proceeds will be held under authority of the trustee, pending future court determinations concerning the secured liens and the order of dispersal.
And the judge has approved an online motor vehicle auction, which Obuchowski requested, to dispose of 14 vans, trucks and other campus vehicles. The auction is being conducted by Hirchak Brothers, of Morrisville.
The bidding process ends on Dec. 28 at noon.
Still to be dealt with by the court is the former Bennington Center for the Arts, which was donated in 2017 to the college by founders Bruce Laumeister and Elizabeth Small.
After the college closed citing declining enrollment and rising debt, the couple filed suit in Bennington Superior Court Civil Division to have their gift to SVC annulled and the arts center/theater returned.
The suit now is before the bankruptcy court, but no proposed settlement of outstanding issues has yet been filed.
Among the suit issues when it was initially filed were that the couple sought a declaratory judgment annulling the donation to SVC and a declaratory judgment regarding a life lease the couple held on an apartment in the building, and issues regarding restrictions on how the center could be used by SVC.
Those included that it must remain a nonprofit arts center or museum and theater.
Laumeister and Small also sought to protect and insure the art collection housed there, which they said was the college’s obligation under the donation agreement. According to the suit, the arts center property was valued conservatively at more than $2 million, and the founders’ art collection there was said to be valued at $2 million.
The arts center is not on the main campus but located on 5.8 acres on Gypsy Lane off Route 9.
Laumeister and Small constructed the Bennington Center for the Arts during the 1990s. Wings were added over about 15 years, resulting in a total of 36,000 square feet of space, including the 315-seat theater, seven galleries, offices and other spaces. The grounds also include a covered bridge museum and gardens.
TO WORK WITH TOWN
SVHC officials have said they intend to work with the town on evaluating and planning potential uses for the campus land and buildings. The property includes about 200 acres under a conservation easement held by the Vermont Land Trust, and the trust and SVHC agreed prior to the purchase to continue that agreement.
The mostly wooded acreage is around the base and sides of Mt. Anthony and includes hiking trails that have been used by the community as well.
The campus also include dormitories and an athletic center, as well as the historic Everett Mansion, which the original estate owner, Edward H. Everett, had constructed as a summer home during 1911-14, with stone walls and in the style of a 14th century English feudal mansion.