Plans to return the College of St. Joseph grounds to active use got a $50,000 boost Wednesday when the former college was among 18 Vermont organizations that collectively received almost $8 million in funding from the Northern Border Regional Commission.
Gov. Phil Scott, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., were among officials in Springfield on Wednesday. One of the recipients was the Southern Windsor County Incubator in Springfield, which received a $235,162 grant to turn the old Park Street School into an “entrepreneurial hub” that is expected to include co-working space, apartments and educational space.
The $50,000 awarded to College of St. Joseph, or CSJ, will be used to “create a strategy, business plan and ecosystem map to create a center for innovation and excellence at the Rutland campus,” according to a news release.
Grants were awarded to projects in St. Albans, Winooski and Randolph. Statewide recipients included the Vermont Community Loan Fund, which got $250,000 to start a new low-interest revolving loan fund; Let’s Grow Kids, which got $250,000 to expand a project that supplies child care for working parents; the Vermont Business Roundtable, which got $250,000 to run the Vermont Talent Pipeline Management system; and the Vermont Council on Rural Development, which received $122,000 to expand the Community Visit Program.
Separately, the winners of more than $4,532,337 in NBRC Regional Forest Economy Partnership grants were announced Wednesday including Vermont Technical College, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and the Preservation Trust of Vermont.
In the statement, Welch said the grant for CSJ could preserve the institution as an entity even though it is not currently operating as a college.
“The College of St. Joseph has a long tradition of serving the needs of the Rutland community. This grant will help with the collaborative effort underway to re-imagine the college as a center for excellence and innovation, enabling it to continue its deep connection to Rutland while enhancing the regional economy,” he said.
The administration of CSJ is attempting to raise more than $100,000 to pay for a feasibility study.
Dennis Moynihan, director of programs for Vermont Innovation Commons, said the grant was part of the state’s response to the announcements this year that Green Mountain College, Southern Vermont College and CSJ would close.
All three did so at the end of the 2018-19 academic year.
“The (Vermont) Agency for Commerce and Community Development, naturally, has been monitoring that situation, naturally, has been wanting to do whatever the state can do to respond to that situation and react to that situation from the ground and pro-actively try to adjust the trajectory that these communities are facing,” Moynihan said.
Moynihan said the closure of all three colleges presented different challenges, but CSJ is unique because administrators are trying to keep it open as what has been described as a “center for innovation and excellence.”
Moynihan said Vermont has been an active partner in CSJ’s future and brought together CSJ with Vermont Innovation Commons and Vermont Works, an investment company.
Jennifer Scott, president of CSJ, said getting the state’s support was “taking the first step in getting us moving forward and getting the support we may need from more local stakeholders including the city of Rutland.”
“The state really got out front and said, ‘We’ve looked at your project. We have confidence in the team’s ability to work through the objectives that we laid out for our feasibility study. We’re willing to put this money in to see where we can go from there,’” she said.
The feasibility study is expected to cost about $227,000. Vermont Works has committed to paying half the cost.
But officials from CSJ, Vermont Works and Vermont Innovation Commons want to raise as much of the other half as possible locally to give the Rutland community an investment in the project.
Moynihan said he heard the staff at NBRC, which supported the CSJ application, thought it was more than just a good proposal.
“They said they see our program, our plans as possibly an example of what other states can replicate. They think it’s an interesting idea, and it has legs. They not only want to see us succeed, but they’d like us to share our learning from this process more widely across the four states (they serve,)” he said.
According to the statement, Scott called the NBRC “one of the largest economic development tools we have in Vermont” and said the benefits of the grants will be seen “in nearly every corner of the state.”
“These grants help build critical infrastructure, expand our workforce and strengthen our communities,” Scott said.
Created through the federal farm bill in 2008, the NBRC is a federal-state partnership with a mission to help alleviate economic distress and encourage private-sector job creation throughout Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire and New York. In Vermont, including this year’s grants, more than 70 projects totaling more than $15.6 million have been funded.