When the stars aligned for a new facility in Brattleboro, the Community College of Vermont didn’t hesitate in taking the opportunity to grow in size and expand its connection to the community. The renovations at the Brooks House on the corner of Main and High streets downtown are in full swing and come August 1 the College will be sharing a new 18,000 square foot space with Vermont Tech.
“Brooks house is really the cornerstone and heart of downtown Brattleboro,” says Tapp Barnhill, executive director of CCV Brattleboro’s academic center. “There is some anxiety about the move, but it’s really exciting to be one of the main anchor tenants. Having that visibility will be a big change.”
The current facility is about 6600 square feet and, as Barnhill puts it, is ‘off the beaten path’ on Landmark Hill.
“When we moved to Landmark Hill ten years ago it was a progressive facility,” says Joyce Judy, president of the College. “But times have changed. The trend we are seeing is more and more people are interested in the science, tech and math fields, our programs have to evolve to meet business and industry needs, we need to step up to that challenge.”
With the statewide demand for programs in allied health, environmental science, and many other STEM field studies increasing, the lack of any kind of lab at Landmark Hill makes stepping up tough. It means that lab science courses offered at CCV Brattleboro must be run at nearby high schools or wherever they can find proper space and equipment.
“While that has worked, it has limited both our ability to offer lab courses and the number of courses offered, particularly in the daytime. In the new location we will be able to really diversify our current offerings,” Judy adds.
In addition to the expansion of programs the new move will provide, Barnhill says the promise of modern, unified technology in all the classrooms is most welcome.
According to Judy, VSC Board of Trustees member Martha O’Connor had hopes for a downtown location for the CCV Brattleboro site for some time. The pieces began falling into place when the Brooks House, a landmark building built in 1871, was destroyed by fire in April of 2011.
“It left this huge hole, for lack of a better word. It was an eyesore downtown,” says Judy. “To see this big burnt out building on the corner of your main street is really troubling. People want to see a thriving downtown.”
Just a few months later Irene ripped through.
“From my perspective the importance of the Brooks house coming back online simply cannot be overstated ,” says Patrick Moreland, Brattleboro’s town manager. “It has been three years since the fire and the flood and in that time downtown businesses and the community as a whole have struggled.”
Moreland says that having the return of Brooks House as a central figure of commerce and community is exciting, and the public’s reaction to CCV going in has been very positive. WIth around 300 students a semester in 30 classes, 8 full-time staff and 25 part-time faculty, Moreland says the additional foot traffic downtown is more than welcome.
“Especially young foot traffic,” he says. “Youth bring their youth with them. It will be exciting to feel that energy and that vibrancy downtown. Main and High Street doesn’t get any more prominent in our town. To be honest it sounds like Brooks House is coming back better than ever, particularly with the colleges in there.”
President Judy says that O’Connor’s perseverance was a real driving force behind CCV occupying the new space. Governor Shumlin’s connection to the town and determination to bring healing, jobs and economic development to Brattleboro also served to move things along.
“I’m incredibly grateful that the Governor and others appreciate the value that CCV brings to Vermonters,” says Judy. “This was the first time that the legislature has given CCV a separate appropriation to support our facilities. That was incredible.”
While there are still some months to go before completion, the enthusiasm felt by all parties involved in the project is palpable. Barnhill, Judy, Moreland and many others agree that the word to describe what’s happening for the College and for Brattleboro is exciting.
“We are really strengthening the community,” says Barnhill. “With the economic push that CCV brings wherever we go, it’s a very positive move forward for Brattleboro.”