A study of whether the former College of St. Joseph could be converted to a new use as the CSJ Center for Excellence and Innovation found the project feasible.
Like Green Mountain College in Poultney and Southern Vermont College in Bennington, the College of St. Joseph (CSJ) in Rutland closed its doors after the end of the 2018-19 school year.
But while the other two colleges have been looking for buyers, Dr. Jennifer Scott, president of CSJ, the independent college’s board of directors and partners like Vermont Works and Vermont Innovation Commons have been looking for a way to put the campus back to use in a way that keeps as much of the original educational mission of CSJ as possible.
“One of the key elements of any innovation hub is education,” Scott said on Monday. “So education is a strong component of the programming moving forward, whether it’s for (business) incubators and accelerators or other aspects of workforce development that are unique and personal to the Rutland area and Rutland employers.”
Scott called the final feasibility study “what I had hoped for and more.”
“We set out to assess whether this was going to be a feasible initiative in this area, if it was going to work. We looked at all aspects of implementing such an initiative from the physical assessment of the campus to market research, talking to the community and looking at the overall economics. What has resulted is a vision that evolved from months of hard work and collaboration and community input. It’s pretty exciting,” she said.
The proposed center, if the funding can be found, would provide non-degree education and workforce development, accelerator programs for entrepreneurs and startups, co-working space, office space for startups and others and co-living space.
Another goal would be for the center to serve as home to third-party programs and business tenants.
Dennis Moynihan, program director at Vermont Innovation Commons and lead co-author of the feasibility study, said many of the local stakeholders he spoke to while working on the study said an innovation center would be “transformational.”
Moynihan said Rutland had “all the pieces in place,” including strong local leadership, pent-up demand for modern workspaces and significant members of the workforce who work from home and may want a common workspace.
“This is something you see across rural America in economic development. We’re not going to get big companies to come and relocate and hire 1,000 people anymore. We have to grow our own economy. Entrepreneurship and people ready to take new kinds of jobs are the way we’re going to do that,” he said.
The study, supported by state and local funding as well as private investment, was conducted over 120 days, from June through September.
It was created by CSJ staff, working with Vermont Works, an investment firm and the Vermont Innovation Commons, which describes itself as a “launching pad for entrepreneurs and innovators.”
The next phase is expected to be less public than the development of the plans for the center as officials involved in the project work to attract investors.
“As we enter the pre-development phase, we are working to set up an opportunity fund and attract investors to this project,” Scott said.
A federal program, which creates “Opportunity Zones” that open up funding sources for job creation in rural areas, is expected to be one of the sources the developers hope to tap.
Scott said CSJ staff and their partners are looking at the possibility of another public meeting, like one that took place in August, to present the latest developments to the community.
The feasibility study, which is about 100 pages long, can be found online at mailchi.mp/25a0d278c58f/reimaginingcsj