POULTNEY — Hundreds of staff members, students, community members and Green Mountain College officials, state officials and local leaders met again Thursday evening in the Poultney High School gymnasium to continue brainstorming and hear about the progress of the closure and “unwinding” of the 185-year-old college.
“In democracy, the community has tremendous power to lead,” said Paul Costello, executive director of the Vermont Council on Rural Development.
After Costello’s brief introduction and remarks by Deputy Secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development Ted Brady, GMC President Robert Allen announced some new agreements and advancements.
Allen said he’d received two proposals from groups — though neither of them were financial proposals — looking to occupy the campus, one of which was SaveGMC, a nationwide group of alumni, students and college community members combining efforts to keep the college from closing.
“It’s 13 pages long,” he said of the SaveGMC proposal. “It’s a serious proposal, which is good.”
Allen confirmed that the proposal was put before the board of trustees Thursday, and it was touched on by the board on Friday morning at its weekly meeting, though many had not had a chance to read it through.
The other organization, Allen said, was very interested in the future of the campus and its representatives were visiting last week and will be present for all of next week.
“It’s an organization with some local people,” Allen said in an interview on Friday. “It’s sustainability-focused, (and) it has multiple sources of revenue. It’s a very active conversation.”
Also, Allen revealed that GMC had recently signed with Verdolino and Lowey, a Boston-based firm certified public accountants firm based in Boston, as its chief restructuring officer, who will assume the role of the trustee on July 1 if the college is not sold.
GMC is also partnering with Colliers International Marketing Firm to hopefully sell the college before then, and Allen said if an amount big enough to clear the debt were proposed, it wouldn’t have to be cleared with the college’s partners Key Bank and the USDA, to whom the college is indebted approximately $22 million.
The college was commencing with their teach-out agreements, funneling the students, staff and faculty they could out to other institutions of higher learning and places of employment to help bridge the gap of GMC’s closure.
“We are having a rather robust and joyous commencement,” Allen said. “Probably the largest we’ve ever had.”
The community then settled into bleachers and chairs in the Blue Devils’ Gymnasium to brainstorm other ideas for what the Green Mountain College campus could become.
Hung on the right side of the gym were a series of 30 ideas for re-purposing the campus or what the community wanted to see as Poultney’s new shining star carried over from previous meetings.
Ideas ranged from creating a new state correctional facility in the town to creating a multi-use business park, to approaching the Brattleboro Retreat about options to expand as another location for mental health services.
After adding a few ideas to the list, community members were invited down from the bleachers to vote on which ideas they found to be most viable and valuable to the Poultney community, which stands to lose hundreds of young minds and employment opportunities.
Among the most popular ideas were that GMC be made into a satellite campus for surrounding schools like Middlebury College or Castleton University, that the campus be made into a housing and support services center for veterans, or designate the campus as a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math center for high school students.
Dr. Michael Scovner of Rutland Regional Medical Center, and formerly of GMC, suggested creating a casino for the town, an idea he said was brought to his attention by a local Native American tribe.
Though many expressed interest in implementing a trade college on the campus, one of the ideas that seemed most attractive to audience members was the idea that drew the most support was investing in a partnership with the USDA that promoted the college be used as an agricultural, sustainability and environmental education institute.
“All the developers who look at this campus are going to be very interested in what the community had to say,” Costello said to the crowd.
Paul Donaldson said the Select Board recently applied for several grants with help from the Rutland Regional Planning Commission: one from the USDA Rural and Business Development to hire an economic development coordinator with a full match (a $45,000 position, if approved), and another for a marketing and media specialist through the Northern Borders Grant to develop a website and brochures to market the recreational opportunities of Poultney.
“You can get to Lake St. Catherine in 5 minutes,” Donaldson said, talking about the latter. “Hopefully, if we can get that grant, which would require a $16,500 match with the town — the town is fortunate to have a lot of partners willing to put their money where their mouth is, so to speak.”