'A terribly sad day for all of us': Town reacts to SVC closure

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BENNINGTON — The effects of Southern Vermont College's pending closure rippled across Bennington on Monday.

While some said they were not entirely surprised at the closure announcement, town officials reacted with sadness to the loss of a landmark institution in the town.

Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette remembers his parents dropping him off at his dorm at SVC in September 1986.

"They actually couldn't let go because I was four hours from home," he said. "My parents spent the night at a local hotel and got up the following morning and took my roommate and I to breakfast along with his parents, and wanted to make sure we had settled in."

Every following year until his graduation from the college in 1990, he remembers them attending Parents' Weekend.

"It's a lot of memories, a lot of fond memories at Southern Vermont College" he said.

He says the news of the closure came with mixed emotions for him, both personally and professionally. His family called him Monday morning, asking if the news of the closure was a hoax.

"As a 1990 graduate ... I can't fathom the fact that Southern Vermont College is actually going to close," he said. "Southern Vermont College is basically an icon in this community, very well-known for their quality education and turning students into adults and getting them prepared for their future. SVC means so much to me as a professional. Being a student at SVC helped me prepare for where I am today."

Quickly after graduation, he became a patrolman for the BPD, rising up through the ranks and taking on "pretty much every position" until becoming the chief. He credits his education at SVC to much of his career success.

Multiple SVC graduates have become Bennington police officers; in fact, seven of the BPD's current employees are SVC graduates. Also, Doucette says the BPD was "actively involved" with SVC by providing detail and participating in guest lectures.

"I feel a sense of helplessness because there's nothing I can do to fix this," he said. "We have really enjoyed our relationship with SVC."

Town Manager Stuart Hurd said it is "terrible news" that the college has decided to shut its doors at the end of the spring semester.

"SVC has become such an integral part of our community," he said.

Not only is the beautiful campus well-utilized by local residents, many town employees have ties to the college as well, he said.

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"Many of our police officers are graduates of SVC's Criminal Justice program," Hurd said. "Many [other town staff] graduated from SVC and found a home here and a way to contribute to our community. This is truly a sad day for the students, faculty, employees of the college, its administration, and the town."

Select Board member Jeannie Jenkins, who is also a staff member at the Bennington campus of the Community College of Vermont, said the loss of SVC is "significant" for the community.

"For the town of Bennington, this impacts not only jobs but also the richness that SVC programming, faculty and students have brought to the community," she said. "As a CCV staff person, I have worked closely with SVC on a number of workforce and high school initiatives and their enthusiasm, expertise, and generosity will be sorely missed. It is a terribly sad day for all of us."

Likewise, Select Board Chairman Tom Jacobs said he was "saddened but not surprised" to hear the news of SVC's decision, and noted the college's importance to Bennington.

"SVC has so many important ties to our community not the least of which are the valued employees who have contributed to our local economy," he said. "Those health related programs such as nursing and imaging which SVC offer are critical to the future delivery of healthcare to those communities the hospital serves. I can only hope and encourage an attempt to find some use and opportunity to employ the college's many assets for the betterment of our area."

Thomas Dee, president and CEO of Southwestern Vermont Health Care, issued a statement Monday afternoon expressing the hospital's reaction to the closure of a local institution it had been closely affiliated with.

"The loss of their quality education and the economic impact that the institution has on our regional economy is significant and will be difficult to replace," Dee said. "David Evans and Southern Vermont College have been terrific partners, and our innovative affiliation will regretfully end with the college's closure in May."

"We will support and assist SVC as they develop pathways to place their currently enrolled bachelor of science in nursing students in other colleges, and stand by our promise of providing tuition debt forgiveness and employment for the eligible students that pre-qualified for our program," he said.

Bennington Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Matt Harrington said he and his staff are saddened with the loss of a local institution.

"I do not envy the task that lay ahead for Dr. Evans and the staff as SVC closes," Harrington said. "Unfortunately, I'm not sure this is exclusively a Southern Vermont College problem, and I think this is part of an evolutionary process which is creating hardships on many small, rural colleges."

Harrington said he believes Evans did "everything in his power" to stop what may have been a "long-coming outcome."

"I have the utmost respect for him and the staff at the college as we have staff here at the chamber from that college, graduates who work for the chamber, and yearly we have had SVC interns," he said.

The chamber's young professional group and board members had recently been working on various projects with the campus, Harrington added.

"I think the ripple effect throughout the community is yet to be known, but I know of at least a dozen of our business members that will be negatively impacted by this decision," he said.

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


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