Heartland Communities of America expects to begin permitting on its plan to redevelop the College of St. Joseph campus next month and is open to resuming talks with Rutland Free Library, the company’s representatives said this week.
The project, which would see the campus converted into 200 units of senior housing and related facilities, also has a new overseer. John Kalish, who developed the Community College of Vermont campus in downtown Rutland, has joined Heartland as its director of regional development.
“John came to us as an interested developer, and we saw the benefit of having him alongside us,” project manager John Weatherhogg said.
Kalish said he had been sad to see the college closed, but encouraged by Heartland’s interest in the campus.
“It’s the right project at the right location at the right time,” he said.
Kalish said they have partnered with Ziegler, a Nashville-based private equity firm, on financing the $66 million project. He said the company hopes to make its applications to the city next month and start the Act 250 process in September, closing on the property, which is still owned by Heritage Family Credit Union, by the end of the year.
“We are in the process of now compiling that application, all the consultant reports,” he said.
The current version of the plan involves taking down all of St. Joseph’s Hall. Early on, Heartland had planned to sell the building to the library to serve as a new location for the library. Heartland pulled out of those talks, however, in part because of concerns that some of the opposition to the library moving could derail the overall permitting process.
“We did want the library to tidy up their situation,” Weatherhogg said.
Kalish and Weatherhogg said they were open to resuming talks with the library and are looking for other partners to purchase parts of the property for uses that will create “synergy” with their facility and the city recreation center in the former CSJ gym.
“We haven’t heard from the library folks,” Weatherhogg said. “If the library folks were to come back and come strong, we’d have that conversation.”
Library director Randal Smathers said he was surprised to hear that Heartland had any interest in resuming discussions since it was the company that had kicked the library out of the project.
“I don’t think it is our role to invite us back to their project,” he said.
Smathers said the library was still sorting through its facilities options, but had “not even a starting point.”
“We have been working with Casey Gecha from NBF Architects to see what our options might be at 10 Court St. ... and doing what I was doing previously, which is talking to anyone who has interest in the location of the library,” Smathers said. “We had sincere interest in CSJ. When that went away, we needed other options. ... It was clear talking to the public about the move that many more people than we thought did not like this facility.”
Smathers said they hope the possibility of increased federal money for library projects might add to their options. In the meantime, he said, one of the library’s boilers has died, and Smathers said he has been unable to find a contractor who can even give him an estimate for its replacement.
“As far as the building, I’m trying to get just the basics taken care of,” he said. “We cannot run this building with just one boiler. ... This is one of the big-ticket items we’ve been worried about coming down the pike.”