BENNINGTON — Southwestern Vermont Health Care has made an offer for the Gate House building on the campus of the former Southern Vermont College, and the bankruptcy court trustee is recommending that the court approve the sale for $300,000.
The stone building at 897 Monument Ave., which is constructed in the same style as the historic Everett Mansion on the campus, was owned separately for many years before being donated to SVC for use as an admissions office. It sits at the entrance to the long, curving driveway up to the mansion at the base of Mt. Anthony.
On Nov. 13, the parent corporation of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center had announced an offer for the 371-acre former college campus of $3.2 million. The Chapter 7 trustee, Raymond Obuchowski, has filed the offer as well with U.S. Bankruptcy Court-Vermont Division, recommending approval by Judge Colleen Brown.
Regarding both proposed sales, Obuchowski, who is representing the estate of the former SVC Corp. in the proceedings, said other offers can still be submitted for the properties.
However, any new offers must be signed, be backed by the financial wherewithal to complete the purchase and be received prior to Dec. 7. Obuchowski said offers also must represent a higher or better offer than those submitted by the nonprofit health care corporation.
A videoconference court hearing is set for Dec. 11, he said, at which time other offers that have been qualified can be considered by the court. A bidding process also is possible at that time, with proposed buyers required to raise the bid a specific minimum amount in each case.
For the campus, additional bids must be at least $50,000 higher, while bids for the Gate House would have to be at least $10,000 higher.
ARTS CENTERObuchowski also is proceeding with efforts to sell the former Bennington Center for the Arts building on 5.81 acres off West Road.
That building was donated to SVC, in late 2017, not long before SVC officials announced that declining student enrollment and mounting debt threatened the small private school’s existence.
SVC closed in May 2019 following the school’s final commencement ceremony on the mansion lawn.
Obuchowski also has filed a motion with the court to remove a Superior Court suit and other matters involving the arts center to the Chapter 7 case in bankruptcy court. Resolution could ultimately lead to a sale if a buyer has made an offer, or to renewed marketing of the arts center/theater.
However, Obuchowski said there are issues that must be decided before a purchase offer could be accepted. Those include the status of the 2017 gift of the center to SVC by center founders Bruce Laumeister and Elizabeth Small, who sued the college after the closure.
They sought to annul the gift of the 36,000-square-foot facility, which includes galleries and a 315-seat theater.
In addition, Obuchowski said, there are disputes surrounding liens against the center that must be resolved.
Likewise, there are deed covenants that went with the donation of the Gate House to the college, including on how it could be sold or transferred, which Obuchowski said he is working to resolve.
The Gate House was donated by major SVC supporters and graduates, Ira and Marcia Wagner, who purchased and renovated the building about seven years ago for use by the college.
CHAPTER 7In August, the college board of trustees voluntarily entered the college corporation into the Chapter 7 process, which typically results in the sale of real estate and other assets and settling of debts if possible.
In this case, Community Bank, the lead mortgage-holder, is owed about $5.5 million, according to paperwork filed with the court. The bank is therefore considered first in line to recover money owed by the college.
Among the others owed money are Fredric Poses, who put up $2 million to secure a mortgage for the college in 2011; and SVC Funding, LLC, which is related to a loan of $1.2 million a group of SVC trustees provided just before the college closed to secure the final graduation.
Obuchowski also has made a motion to the court to approve the sale of some 14 vans, trucks and other college vehicles. That process could go to an online auction, he said.
If the SVHC offer is successful, officials with the health system have said they intend to partner with the town and “conduct a thorough assessment and develop a short- and long-range plan for the property.”
They said they had approached Bennington officials “to explore opportunities and develop together strategies for the former college campus and associated assets.”
“Southwestern Vermont Health Care realizes how important this property has been to our region and its historical significance,” President and CEO Thomas Dee said last week. “The outdoor space and the Everett Mansion are treasured assets and should remain accessible to our community.”
SVHC officials noted that the original benefactor of the former Putnam Hospital, Henry Putnam, had two children, his son Henry Putnam Jr. and his stepson, Edward Everett. Both were involved with the hospital, which later became Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.
Officials with SVHC could not be reached Friday for comment on the proposed purchase of the Gate House.
Town Manager Stuart Hurd said he had not yet heard of the offer, which was filed with the court Thursday.
The campus includes the historic mansion, which historic preservation organizations have reportedly eyed for preservation efforts; dormitories; an athletic complex, and hiking trails along and up Mt. Anthony.
The mansion, which was constructed from 1911-14, was found during a recent inspection to have suffered some damage from the elements since the college shut down.
A group of residents also had urged the town to purchase the campus, and some now reportedly will seek to assist the hospital’s effort.
Since the campus has been marketed, only one other offer reached the point of a purchase and sale contract. Oliverian School, of Pike, N.H., a private secondary school, agreed in 2019 to purchase the main campus for $4.9 million.
However, school officials decided in January to bow out after its due diligence process determined the campus would be too expensive for Oliverian School to maintain.