BENNINGTON — Southwestern Vermont Health Care has submitted an offer to the bankruptcy trustee overseeing liquidation of assets of the former Southern Vermont College — a signed $3.2 million offer for the real estate and facilities of the main campus.
“The leadership of the health system, through the direction of its board of directors, is committed to developing a long-range plan to maximize the use of this valuable community asset, as well as how the property could enhance community and health-related services for the Southern Vermont region,” officials said in a media release.
The intent, they said, is to keep the 371-acre campus locally owned, with a goal of making the athletic fields and its hiking trails accessible for the community.
The offer was submitted to Raymond Obuchowski, the Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee overseeing the SVC case in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
Obuchowski recently encouraged offers for the former college’s real estate and other assets.
CONSULTED WITH TOWNBefore submitting its offer, SVHC officials said they contacted 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,” stated President and CEO Thomas Dee. “The outdoor space and the Everett Mansion are treasured assets and should remain accessible to our community.”
The release notes 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 deeply involved with the community and the hospital — now Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.
“I believe the town has a role to play,” said Town Manager Stuart Hurd in an email when contacted Friday. “Exactly what that is and what funding it may require is not yet known. I can tell you I am pleased this offer has come forward. It bodes well for the future of this site and the community.”
“Let me add that SVHC is an amazingly engaged community partner, one that sets us apart from every other town in Vermont,” said Select Board Chairman Donald Campbell. “They will need a lot of help to pull this off, so it is my hope and expectation that residents and town government will back them 100 percent. They have our backs with the former SVC, now we need to have theirs going forward.”
MOTION TO ACCEPTObuchowski said Friday he expects to file a motion with Judge Colleen Brown in Bankruptcy Court to accept the SVHC offer. However, he notes that other potential buyers will have until Dec. 7 to file “higher or better” offers and also show they have the financial ability to complete the purchase.
A court hearing is scheduled for Dec. 11, he said, at which time qualified offers will be considered before the judge.
If the SVHC offer is successful, officials said, the health system “intends to partner with the town and conduct a thorough assessment and develop a short- and long-range plan for the property.”
Obuchowski said the proposed sale involves the main campus but not the former Bennington Center for the Arts and theater off West Road or the Gate House building on Monument Avenue, both of which were donated to the college prior to its closure in May 2019.
The arts center founders, Bruce Laumeister and Elizabeth Small, had since filed suit, seeking to annul their gift, but that action in Bennington Superior Court Civil Division apparently remains on hold pending decisions in the Chapter 7 case.
The future of those properties will be considered separately, Obuchowski said.
PREVIOUS OFFERA previous offer for approximately $3 million from a youth camp operator was not completed prior to a late September purchase agreement deadline and was not accepted by Obuchowski for submission to the court for possible approval. The trustee said Friday that a similar offer from camp operator Moshe Perlstein could, however, be resubmitted along with other offers for the property, but it would have to be accepted as better or higher than the SVHC offer.
The SVHC offer is more than $200,000 higher than the Perlstein offer, Obuchowski said.
Obuchowski said others have inquired about the campus property but not yet submitted the required signed purchase offer.
Perlstein operated summer camps on the campus during the summer for Orthodox Jewish youth from the New Jersey-New York City area.
Also as part of SVC’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, Judge Brown has approved Obuchowski’s request to have a $300,000 security deposit Perlstein put up in June as part of a separate campus occupancy agreement with the SVC board of trustees to hold youth camps during July and August.
Obuchowski also filed a complaint with the court, contending campus buildings endured significant damage during the camps and seeking payment to cover those expenses from the security deposit.
The complaint states that “significant damage was caused and significant expenses and costs were incurred to or against the [campus] property during [the camp’s] occupancy of the property.”
Estimated costs to repair the damage were stated as “at least $50,000 and the expenses total at least $175,000.”
The judge’s order provided court authority for TPW Real Estate and broker Paul Carroccio, by whom the security deposit was being held under the occupancy agreement, to deliver the $300,000 to Obuchowski as trustee.
The purpose, Obuchowski said, is to “hold the monies pending subsequent determination of entitlement to/or ultimate ownership of those monies.”
Among parties that have publicly discussed buying the campus was group of citizens who have urged the Select Board to consider having the town buy the campus for a recreation or tourism-related facility.
The campus includes student housing, an athletic complex, athletic fields and the Everett Mansion, which historic preservation groups have expressed an interest in preserving. Hiking trails also lead up Mt. Anthony from the campus.
Rep. Mary Morrissey, R-Bennington, worked with the citizen group, which she said grew to more than 150 people who would like the property used to benefit the town.
The property also has been proposed by other potential buyers for a business conference center or private recreation facility and resort.
Since SVC closed at the end of the 2018-19 school year, the college property has received one other formal sale agreement but it was not completed. A private college preparatory boarding school, the Oliverian School in Pike, N.H., offered $4.9 million for the campus in November 2019. But the school withdrew during the due diligence period after investigating the cost of maintaining the campus.