Brattleboro Hopes Colleges Find Downtown Home

07/02/12 7:34AM By Susan Keese
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Plans are coming together to bring two colleges to a new home in downtown Brattleboro.

Officials are looking at two possible sites, including the historic Brooks House on Main Street, which was gutted by fire more than a year ago.

The push to establish a college in downtown Brattleboro came from Governor Peter Shumlin. The governor included the proposal in his budget address last January, surprising even political insiders in his native Windham County.

Tim Donovan is chancellor of the Vermont State College System, which includes Community College of Vermont. He says the governor approached him with the Brattleboro idea before the speech.

"He asked us if that was a place where we would be able to make an investment," Donovan recalls, "particularly if there was some assistance from the state. And we said, ‘Yes, of course.' So as the legislative session ended, we were quite pleased that two million dollars had been identified in the budget."

Several institutions of higher learning, including CCV, have outposts scattered around Brattleboro. Vermont Technical College has a nursing program on the outskirts of town. But Donovan says Vermont Tech hopes to increase its southern Vermont offerings.

"We're looking at a couple of buildings in downtown Brattleboro that could conceivably house the Community College of Vermont operations, as well as the nursing program for Vermont Tech," Donovan says. "And if we find adequate space to do both those things, the likelihood is they'd be co-located."

Donovan says increasing its downtown presence is a priority for Community College of Vermont. Enrollment in CCV has more than doubled statewide in the past decade.

The college recently built new downtown centers in Rutland and Winooski. Improvements in Brattleboro were on the radar screen.

But Donovan says the kick start from the Legislature will speed things up, without raising tuition.

"We'd certainly like to have something that was in place a year from this August," Donovan says. "And there's a great deal of excitement in Brattleboro about the new energy that would come from having this kind of facility located in the downtown."

Brattleboro's business community is excited. The area has lost population and jobs in the past decade and workforce training has become a top priority.

The town has had some hard knocks, too: flooding from Tropical Storm Irene and a fire in the Brooks House, a major downtown building whose restoration could include a college site.

A second building under consideration is a former auto parts warehouse a block away.

Donovan says the college won't have snack bars, bookstores, entertainment venues or other non-academic campus facilities. But those are services downtown businesses will be happy to offer.

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