School Funding

Bennington officials to vote on funding for proposed mixed-use development at former high school

The Bennington Selectboard is discussing funding for the proposed mixed-use development at the former Bennington High School. CAT-TV screenshot

Bennington officials are due to vote Monday on whether to allocate $2 million in federal coronavirus relief funding in a plan to turn the former Bennington High School building into a mixed-use property with leisure, work and residential spaces.

Five days before the vote, at a public meeting on Wednesday, members of the Bennington community both praised and criticized the redevelopment plan. Many hailed the project to create more housing at a time when Vermont’s housing market is becoming increasingly tight, while others worried that the multimillion-dollar price of the project will be passed on to taxpayers.

Some supporters said new housing would bring more talent to Bennington during a time when potential employees statewide turned down jobs because they couldn’t find housing.

Others raised parking issues that mixed-use ownership could create in the Main Street area, while a few said they wanted more information about the project.

“I think there’s a plethora of information we’ve received tonight,” Bennington resident Donald Washburn said, “but I think there’s still a lot that needs to be revealed, if you want.”

The town of Bennington plans to partner with a private developer to renovate the century-old building – which has been largely vacant since 2004 – into “community space” and residences.

The idea is that the two entities each work on a part of the building of 100,000 square feet. The city would turn a 30,000 square foot area into community space, which would relocate the Bennington Senior Center and the county’s Meals on Wheels program, as well as a YMCA gymnasium and some work out rooms.

The remaining area would be developed into at least 40 residences by Hale Resources, a Bennington property development and property management company.

Since Thursday, planned residential units have fallen from 44 to 42, due to preservation guidelines on the historic building from 1913, said Zak Hale, co-partner of Hale Resources. The total would include 15 “perpetual” affordable units and another 14 that would be designated affordable units for their first five years of operation, Hale told VTDigger.

The city assesses the creation of community space for cost up to $9 million. Hale Resources expects to spend around $10 million on the housing portion.

During the town hall meeting at Bennington Fire Station on Wednesday evening, Deputy Chief Executive Dan Monks said the million federal dollars that Bennington received under the American Rescue Plan Act got the ball rolling on this huge project.

The city plans to use $2 million of this local coronavirus tax recovery funding on community space. The rest of the spending, officials said, would be covered by a combination of tax credits, grants, loans, rebates, donations and a potential bond vote. financing by tax increase.

Hale Resources would be responsible for raising its own financing and is considering a combination of tax credits, private investors and bank financing.

“This project, truly, is a once-in-a-lifetime and likely once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to achieve multiple goals in one project and bring an iconic building back to life for the community,” said Shannon Barsotti, Bennington’s Director of Community Development. in front of an audience of approximately 50 people at the meeting. “He has so much potential.”

Multiple citizen surveys show Bennington residents want more housing for varying income levels, additional indoor recreation, and rehabilitation of vacant and run-down buildings, Barsotti said in an interview.

“It’s the largest vacant and dilapidated building downtown,” she said of the old high school.

The building is currently owned by Christopher Gilbert, a resident of Dorset and Red Hook, New York, who purchased the property in 2020 for $146,000.

Selection committee chair Jeannie Jenkins said that if the board decides at its see you on monday to invest $2 million in federal funding in the proposal, no money would be spent until the city secured the estimated additional $1.2 million for the first phase of the project.

Designated city employees would then report to the Selectboard in three to four months on the progress of the funding, before the council decided to go ahead.

Jenkins said Bennington residents won’t have to bear the costs.

“There is no cost to the taxpayer,” she said in an interview. “It’s all about using the[American Rescue Plan Act]funds, really, as a springboard to finding other sources to set up this project.”

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