Fate of some VTSU properties to be determined in longterm study


The consternation began on Tuesday, Sept. 27, when Perry Ragouzis, the student representative from the Vermont State Colleges Board of Trustees, attended the NVU-Johnson Student Government (SGA) Senate meeting.

Among other topics, Ragouzis brought up the issue of divestment on VTSU campuses. While he emphasized that no decision had been made final yet, he shared a list of buildings on the Johnson campus that were under consideration for divestment. Some of the buildings he listed – such as the President’s House and McClelland Hall – were not of much surprise or concern as they are no longer used as regularly. Other buildings, however, caused a feeling of shock and concern to ripple through the senate room as the gravity of the potential building losses set in. These buildings included Martinetti Hall and the Campus Apartments, as well as other residential buildings.

Shortly after the Senate meeting, Sophie Zdatny, Chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges, sent out an email to the VTSU community concerning the information shared throughout the campuses by Ragouzis.

Zdatny stated that “While this information was shared with the best intentions of transparency and to answer questions students had about campus changes, the information shared was not accurate and does not represent the careful facilities planning that is underway at this point in the transformation process.”

She also offered an apology for “the concern and upset this misinformation has caused.”

In her email, Zdatny included a list of what has occurred to date concerning transformation throughout the VTSU campuses. “What the transformation must reflect is a rightsizing of our physical spaces to reflect the needs of our students, employees, and communities now and in the future. We know that we have more space than we need, classrooms that go unused for significant percentages of the week, and facilities that sorely need upgrading. To achieve a successful transformation, some of our physical spaces will need to change through renovation, replacement, or possible divestment; however, these changes will be thoroughly vetted with an eye to our academic needs,” said Zdatny in her email.

Vermont State University President Parwinder Grewall, in a subsequent email to the VTSU community, emphasized that the process for determining the fate of various campus buildings will take several years and a lot of research and evaluation.

“The transformation plan is dependent on our five main campuses- Castleton, Johnson, Lyndon, Randolph, and Williston- remaining open,” Parwinder wrote. “I am committed to creating vibrant and community-centered campuses for VTSU.

“The transformation facilities committee is working on a plan that involves a variety of ideas for our buildings—from leasing to selling to replacing to removing to rebuilding and transforming. This process will take several years. Any plans that involve our Vermont State buildings will come before me as president and the Vermont State University cabinet before decisions are made.”

In his email, the VTSU president also stressed that whatever divestment or repurposing plans emerge are not related to possible program discontinuation. Some concerns have already surfaced regarding continuation of existing programs.

“Buildings that were mentioned as a possibility for divestment are not connected to program closures,” he wrote. “Ultimately, if a building is selected for divestment, programs located in that building would be moved to another space on campus through a process of needs assessment, renovation, and relocation. However, as stated before, no decisions have been made at this time and all elements are purely conceptual. Space divestment is a serious matter that will take thorough investigation and is a normal process for any university.

“I will stay in close communication with you as we move forward through this process. Rest assured that we need to have thorough conversations about the possibilities for some of our buildings to arrive at the best use of our spaces.”

In the meantime, it appears the work to determine the future of some VTSU campus buildings has only just begun.

In a Basement Medicine interview, chief operating officer of the Vermont State Colleges system Sharron Scott noted that while many university constituents will be involved in the ongoing determination process, the final decisions will be made by the board of trustees.

“Ultimately, decisions regarding divestment will be made by the Vermont State Colleges Board of Trustees based on recommendations from Chancellor Zdatny and President Grewal,” Scott said, emphasizing that such decisions would be deliberate, methodical and inclusive. “These recommendations will be made after significant analysis and review, as well as consultation with key members of the campus community such as the President’s cabinet and academic leaders.”

According to Scott, a number of campus buildings across the system are underutilized, which is one of the dynamics prompting further study. “All campus buildings, across all VTSU campuses are up for consideration,” she said. “A space utilization study conducted a year ago notes that less than 35% of classrooms and academic spaces are occupied, VTSU-wide, Monday through Friday between the hours of 8:00 and 17:00. For campuses of our size and type, occupancy should be somewhere between 60%and 80%. This utilization data, coupled with demographic estimates, historical enrollment trends, residence hall occupancy trends, class size averages, and building condition assessments will be some of the data used to assess whether a building should be considered for divestment.”

What, exactly, divestment would entail is at this stage unclear, according to Scott, with a number of factors and options to be considered. “Divestment could come in many forms such as leasing to a third party, selling the building, creating a public-private partnership, or possibly eliminating the building. These decisions will be made based on the marketability, age, and condition of each building and will vary from space to space and campus to campus.”

The Johnson community is well aware of the university’s interest in divesting itself of McClelland Hall, as reported in an April 8, 2021 issue of this newspaper. The building is mostly empty, with all academic departments having moved up the hill to the main campus.   At this point, no sales or leases have been announced, but Scott noted that a number of scenarios for that building and others are being considered.

“As for Johnson, specific projects the university is exploring [are] a potential short-term (less than one year) leasing partnership with Smugglers Notch Resort to provide supplemental housing for some of their workers. Additionally, we have explored potential partnerships with area social services, childcare, and medical providers to offer expanded services from the Johnson campus,” she said. “To the best of my knowledge final decisions have not been made regarding these matters. VTSU and the VSC as a whole, continues to be open to partnerships with local organizations that align with the mission and value of the VSC and its constituent institutions.”


Ed. Note: This article is the first in a series on possible divestment of VTSU properties.