Home News and Features VCFA Buyer Greenway Center Sets Up Operations In Noble Hall

VCFA Buyer Greenway Center Sets Up Operations In Noble Hall

Noble Hall on the Vermont College of Fine Arts Campus is now under a sale contract with the Greenway Center for Equity and Sustainability. Photo by John Lazenby.
The Greenway Center for Equity and Sustainability, which is under contract to buy five of VCFA’s largest buildings, has moved staff into the first floor of Noble Hall, is setting up instruction space there, and is expecting a small cohort of college-level engineering students to take up residence on the second floor of Noble shortly. One of the co-founders of Greenway, Troy McBride, is living with his wife on the third floor, where faculty may reside from time to time.

This information and more was revealed by Greenway at a public meeting with neighbors and other members of the community in the chapel at VCFA on Aug. 15. McBride and another Greenway founder, former education secretary Rebecca Holcombe, spoke and answered questions at the meeting.

Greenway plans to purchase Noble, Glover-Hadley, and Dewey halls — all of which include dorm rooms — and Stone Science and Schulmaier halls, classroom buildings that are currently partly rented out to various organizations (The Bridge has offices in Stone). Greenway would like to retain those tenants for now, but has plans to grow the Center over time. 

McBride did not name a date for a closing, but said it will happen “as soon as possible.” Greenway is seeking applicants for the position of program manager, according to a recent Front Porch Forum posting.

McBride and Holcombe have previously been involved with the Greenway Institute, based in White River Junction and focused on middle-school and high school students. The new Greenway Center in Montpelier will offer residential, college-level engineering courses and may one day offer a graduate degree.

Holcombe said their college will offer “a mission-driven engineering program that is hands-on and team-based and lecture-free.” To start, Greenway will partner with Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, where McBride once taught. The first students will be coming for a semester away from Elizabethtown, but eventually Greenway would like to partner with other colleges as well.

Greenway plans to start up slowly with a small number of students this fall and another small cohort of up to 20 students in the spring, and then a first-year engineering program likely to start in the fall of 2024. Greenway also plans to offer summer courses to teachers in Vermont and New England who need STEM graduate-level courses toward a certificate or master’s degree. Some of those students could live on campus.

Greenway obtained a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to design its program, Holcombe said. They hope to attract students interested in “green energy and green technology.” Elizabethtown and Greenway are both committed to recruiting students from groups that may not have traditionally gotten involved in engineering, including rural students, she said.

Holcombe believes the college is a good match for Vermont and Montpelier. “We know that green energy and green technology is one of Vermont’s most promising, high-wage, and fastest-growing sectors,” she said. “It could be an engine that ensures a level of prosperity for the state.”

Down the line, Greenway may set up an incubator on campus to help students start businesses here. “We want people to stay in Vermont,” she said.

Asked by a neighbor about Greenway’s plans to maintain and upgrade the buildings, McBride said they will utilize the VCFA buildings and grounds crew for maintenance and plan to upgrade all the heating systems from oil boilers to electric, and will be adding solar. He said Greenway is working with the Montpelier firm of gbA Architecture.

Asked by another audience member whether food service would be offered in the Dewey cafeteria, the Greenway representatives said that would not be the case until the college gets bigger. Meanwhile, the students will be cooking their own food, and McBride said the college is also working with local restaurants to provide some food to the students.

Three of the buildings — Dewey, Stone, and Schulmaier — are on their own parcels and will be owned directly by Greenway. The buildings they are buying on the east side of College Street — Noble and Glover-Hadley halls — will be part of a condominium with the owners of the other five buildings on that side of the street. This is being done for heating and parking reasons, among other considerations, VCFA’s VP for Finance and Administration Katie Gustafson told The Bridge.

Two of the buildings that will be part of the condominium, Alumni Hall (the old gym) and the Bishop-Hatch dorm, are expected to be sold to the New School, which currently operates out of a privately owned building on the other side of the green but has also been renting some space from VCFA.

On its website, the New School describes itself as “a learning community committed to preparing individuals with unique and complex challenges for successful lives.” It provides services to students from age 5 to 22, and says its purpose is to provide an appropriate education to students whose needs cannot be met within their school district.

Earlier this year, a local group of wellness professionals known as 150 Main Street LLC planned to purchase three VCFA buildings — Crowley Center, Martin House, and Gary Library. That sale fell through during the due-diligence phase of the purchase, according to a letter 150 Main Street sent to neighbors on College Street this spring, so those buildings are still for sale.

The expected sales to Greenway and the New School come just over a year after VCFA leadership announced that it would be selling 11 campus buildings and moving its annual residency programs out of state. Summer residencies are being held at Colorado College, while winter residences will be held at Susquehanna College in Pennsylvania.

The college’s low-residency graduate-level arts programming will continue to be administered out of Montpelier. Gustafson said VCFA will retain ownership of College Hall and the college green.