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Departure of Vermont College of Fine Arts could be an opportunity for Montpelier

News of another small college closing its doors in Vermont came as a shock to students. But the departure of the Vermont College of Fine Arts from Montpelier co
Published: Jun. 22, 2022 at 5:04 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 23, 2022 at 5:12 AM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - News of another small college closing its doors in Vermont came as a shock to students. But the departure of the Vermont College of Fine Arts from Montpelier could be an opportunity for the community.

Summer residency is in full swing at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, one of two occasions a year where masters of fine arts students are on campus as opposed to working with their mentors at home.

Last week, the school announced it will be moving the residency program to Colorado College, meaning current and future students will say goodbye to the historic Montpelier campus.

“We have not been able to do the maintenance needed to keep the buildings, to refurbish them and keep them up to the kind of standards that our students deserve,” said Leslie Ward, the president of the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Ward says it’s no longer sustainable for the college to finance more than $1.2 million a year in campus upkeep when 10 of the 11 buildings remain empty for nine to ten months a year.

Ward says they’re not on a financial cliff yet, but modeling shows they won’t be in a strong position in three to four years if they keep operating this way.

This decision surprised students.

“I was stunned at first, shocked, a little bit saddened,” said Ramon Jones of Maryland.

Some say they’re looking at the positives, too.

“I think it’s an adventure,” said Emily McArdle of Tennessee.

“I think Colorado will offer us a lot of opportunities we don’t have right now, but I think the most important thing it could teach us is that writers can be each other’s communities,” said Chanel Dubofsky, an alum.

But not everyone is excited. An open letter with at least 95 signatures of mostly alumni was sent to the college’s board this week objecting to the decision, which they say didn’t include input from the college community.

“Space is important and history is important. And all of these things have value. So the fact that all of those have been discounted, and we may move our school to another place and rebrand it. It may be an absolutely wonderful institution, but it’s not for my College of Fine Arts,” said Tavia Gilbert, an alum.

By next summer, 10 of the 11 buildings will not be in use by the college. They’ve hired a real estate consulting firm to look at new uses for the buildings.

Montpelier Mayor Anne Watson says it’s a disappointment to lose the vibrancy the college brings but it’s an opportunity for the city because the buildings have been underutilized.

“I’m hopeful that especially because a lot of that space is underutilized dorms, that that could be used somehow converted to housing, shelter for people because we know that we’re in a significant housing shortage right now,” Watson said.

Watson says the city’s vacancy rate is less than 1%. She says it’s too early to know how feasible it would be for the city to purchase, but they’re interested in having all the options on the table.

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