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Plan Emerging for Three VFCA Buildings

Gary Library, left, Martin House, center, and Crowley Center, right, as seen from College Street. Photo by John Lazenby.
Neighbors of the Vermont College of Fine Arts campus expressed appreciation for the opportunity to hear more about the potential sale of campus buildings in a public meeting at College Hall on March 9. The meeting followed the final student residency to be held on the VCFA campus.

Local residents heard from the buyers of three campus buildings — a group of six women collectively known as 150 Main Street, LLC. But VCFA student Patty Meriam said that she, other students, and some members of the VCFA faculty remain disappointed that they did not have an opportunity to weigh in before the decision was made to relocate the nine-day residency programs to Colorado College and Susquehanna, Pennsylvania. Meriam expressed concern that recent reports have indicated that those locations are not as safe for students as here in Vermont. “We feel safe here as artists,” she said.

Leslie Ward, VFCA president, opened the meeting by explaining that the decision to relocate the programs and sell many of the campus buildings has been difficult and ultimately a financial matter. “After taking a hard look, it is clear that VFCA is better off leasing space on another campus when it is not being used,” Ward said. “The money saved will be used to provide more scholarships.”

 The vision of the women for the three buildings is to provide accessible and affordable health services, including naturopathic, counseling, acupuncture, and a unique “baby bathhouse.” The buildings, Crowley, Martin, and the Gary Library face the campus green, are adjacent, and are located on the east side of College Street. Claire Wheeler, a Burlington resident who is working with the group to develop a business plan, said that planning use for the Gary Library, “is currently where it gets more complicated.”

 The group is in a four-month process of “due diligence” to address parking and other physical issues. Casey Ellison, who will continue to hold a property she owns near Sabin’s Pasture where she had previously considered building a spa, says that it is possible clinical offices and services could be opened in August. “Occupying Gary (Library) could take a year,” she said.

In response to a question from Donna Ackerman, VCFA’s Katie Gustafson explained that the campus has sufficient parking space to accommodate any “immediate demand” that would be created by the services planned.

Lisa Dworski, whose home is near the campus said of the hearing, “This is exactly what I was hoping for. Don’t be afraid of the neighbors. Just engage us,” she said. She then wondered how ongoing communication with the neighbors will take place and feels that will be important.

The group will be launching a website to communicate about the status of the project, Ellison said. “We want to engage with people about the possibilities for the Gary Library.”

Linda Valente, a former librarian at Kellogg-Hubbard Library, said she had anticipated that the response of the community might be negative and has appreciated the opportunity for dialogue.

Peter Kelman, who previously lived near the campus but has moved to the “other side of town,” said he considers this meeting to be “a very good process.” He emphasized that it is important to engage people who don’t necessarily live close to the campus.

 Regarding the future of the Gary Library, Glen Hutcheson asked, “What’s going to happen to the books?” Gustafson replied that it’s likely the collection will move back to College Hall, where it originally resided. The college plans to retain College Hall, including the adjacent green, for its administrative offices.