'A house for writers' coming to N. Bennington

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NORTH BENNINGTON — An early 20th century building in North Bennington formerly used as a nursing home will soon have new life as a nonprofit writing center.

Robert Hansmann, who goes by "V," closed on the sale on the property Tuesday evening, accompanied by Ted Bird of Hoisington Realty, seller and former Prospect Nursing Home president Peter Morris, and buyer's representative Nancy Woltman, also of Hoisington Realty.

Hansmann, a writer and New York City resident, has ties to Bennington. In 2011, he completed an MFA in creative writing at Bennington College with a concentration in nonfiction and poetry. Since August 2011, he has hosted a monthly reading series called Bennington Writers at the Cornelia Street Cafe in Greenwich Village, N.Y.

In June, Hansmann drove by the property as he was visiting Bennington. Immediately, he knew he couldn't pass it up.

He says the idea of starting a writer's center has been "percolating since 2011," and he noted several opportunities he let slip through his fingers due to being too far away or too expensive.

"It's perfect," he said of the building. "Plus, the price was right."

The listing price of $250,000 allows Hansmann to buy the property and renovate it "without breaking the bank," he said.

Hansmann plans to renovate the 5,500 square-foot building at 20 Prospect Street to establish a writer's center for those who wish to take additional writing classes or focus on their manuscripts.

For the eight warmer months of the year, Hansmann said the center would host writing workshops, taught by various writers, for a long weekend or up to eight days. During the winter months, it would offer a writing residency where writers can bring their manuscript and work quietly for two to four weeks at a time.

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He plans to offer 11 or 12 bedrooms for writers and two more bedrooms for faculty. The only positions he plans to hire is an executive director and a program director.

Hansmann's goal is to begin renovating in mid-April 2019 and he hopes to have the center up and running in late 2020 or early 2021. Two parlors in the front will stay "pretty much the same," he said, but everything behind the parlors will be gutted to form a living space.

Hansmann says since he lives in New York City, he will run the center mostly from afar as a chairman of the board.

"I'm just going to be the gray eminence," he laughed. At the moment, he is unsure whether he will teach any classes at the center.

The building, estimated to have been built around 1900, had been on the market since January 2018. It includes 0.85 acres of land.

Morris decided to shut the private nursing home's doors in early 2012 after more than a half-century in operation, citing changing attitudes toward nursing homes and a drop in state funding. He still owns assisted-living facility Watson House next door.

While Hansmann is not entirely sure of some specifics about the writing center yet, one thing is for sure: it is a dream come true.

"I've always wanted to build a house, and I'm going to build a house for writers," Hansmann said.

Christie Wisniewski can be reached at cwisniewski@benningtonbanner.com and at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.


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