Oliverian School pulls out of SVC campus purchase

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BENNINGTON — A bid by a college preparatory boarding school to acquire the former Southern Vermont College campus has ended.

Trustees of the Oliverian School, of Pike, New Hampshire, voted Friday to exercise a right under the purchase and sale agreement for the Bennington campus to withdraw from the purchase within a 90-day due diligence period.

The school and trustees of the former college had announced in late October an agreement to purchase the 371-acre main campus and buildings off Monument Avenue for $4.9 million.

"During this process, we came to love both this stunning campus and the Bennington community," Will Laughlin, Oliverian's head of school, said Tuesday in a media release, "but after a rigorous examination, we have determined that the economics of this wonderful campus do not work for Oliverian School at this time."

"We thank [Chairman] David Newell and the SVC board and the remaining team of SVC employees stewarding the campus, as well as the town of Bennington and the many supportive community members we have met during this process," Laughlin said. "You have been wonderful."

"On behalf of the SVC Trustees and the Bennington area at large, we wish to express our regret that Oliverian will not be purchasing our campus and joining our community," Newell said. "We enjoyed meeting and working with several members of the Oliverian senior management and trustees, and did our best to provide them all of the information they requested. We wish them the best with their future endeavors to expand and improve their facilities."

For the foreseeable future, Laughlin said, Oliverian School will remain in Pike, "a place that has served us well for nearly twenty years," utilizing their resources to improve that campus while remaining open to future opportunities.

When the agreement was announced, Oliverian officials said they and consultants would examine the SVC campus, its structures and facilities and determine how the boarding school would operate at the Bennington site. The school said that ideally it hoped to open at the new campus for the fall 2020 semester and would close the New Hampshire campus.

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A New England Association of Schools and Colleges accredited school, Oliverian is a mostly private pay institution, with annual tuition of approximately $83,000, Laughlin said in October. However, there is an annual fund appeal that provides some student scholarships.

He said being in Bennington would allow the school to expand slightly to around 55 students, and to offer programs for some middle school students and for post-graduate students who require support during the first year of college.

'Too costly'

In an Oliverian Campus News edition obtained by the Banner, Laughlin described the considerations and obstables that led to his board's decision Friday.

He said in a note to the campus, "Our due diligence process has been extremely rigorous and fruitful. It reconnected us with many former students and families. It generated significant commitments for financial support. It affirmed Oliverian's deep bench of loyal and grateful families. It also gave us a clearer and more nuanced sense of our stakeholder's hopes and dreams for Oliverian School. Of course, it also gave us an accurate sense of the funds required to responsibly occupy the SVC campus."

He added, "While the purchase price is remarkable, the maintenance and repair costs — particularly those associated with the historic Everett Mansion — simply do not make economic sense for Oliverian at this time. We would have to raise at least triple the negotiated purchase price to responsibly occupy the campus."

This article will be updated.

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien


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