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Marlboro College sells graduate center building to Renaud Brothers

Vernon construction company pays $3 million for downtown property

BRATTLEBORO—Marlboro College announced on Aug. 15 that it had sold the former downtown home of its graduate center to Renaud Brothers, a Vernon-based construction firm.

According to a news release, Renaud Brothers Construction agreed to a price of $3 million for the 42,000-square-foot office building.

The property will now be known as 28 Vernon Street, named after the limited liability corporation that was formed to buy and manage the property.

“We are pleased to be selling this valuable facility to someone local, and 28 Vernon Street offered a very fair price,” Marlboro College President Kevin Quigley said in a prepared statement. “Although the building served us well for nearly 20 years, it is time for us to focus resources on our educational mission rather than being landlords.”

The sale will also provide a significant infusion of income for the liberal arts college, which currently has a $15 million annual budget. The college posted annual losses totaling more than $7 million from 2011 to 2016, according to its public nonprofit IRS filings.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistiscs, Marlboro’s enrollment dropped from 258 in 2012 to 197 in 2016, and the percentage of overall expenses covered by tuition, room and board, and fees charged to students dropped from 62 percent in 2012 to 43 percent in 2016.

And the trend isn’t confined to just Marlboro College. A recent review of undergraduate enrollment trends of the past two decades done by The Boston Globe, based on federal data, shows that one in five of New England’s 118 private four-year colleges have seen their enrollments drop by at least 10 percent.

Grim realities

That trend may accelerate in future years, according to a recent report, “Knocking at the College Door: Projections of High School Graduates,” by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. Starting in 2025, the number of U.S. high school graduates is expected to sharply drop, based on low birth rates in the U.S. since the 2007-08 Great Recession.

Given those grim financial realities, the sale comes at a vital time for the college as it works to build on its academic program and boost enrollment.

“This is an extremely positive development,” Quigley said. “When combined with an agreement that is being worked out between the college and the Marlboro Music School and Festival, resulting in two new buildings on campus worth $10 million, it is just the infusion we need to get over this latest bump.”

28 Vernon was built in 1992 as an addition to the Holstein Association’s headquarters in downtown Brattleboro. Financial pressures and changes in technology prompted the Holstein Association to sell the building to Marlboro College, which has used it as the headquarters for the Marlboro College Graduate and Professional Studies program.

Financial pressures on the college forced it to relocate the graduate program from Brattleboro to the main campus in Marlboro in March 2017.

The college announced earlier this month that it was discontinuing its Teaching with Technology specialization in the school’s graduate program effective this fall.

The building has been on the market since then, most recently listed with realtors White Burke.

Shifting debt

According to the college, nearly all of the leasable 42,000 square-footage, even the area once occupied by the graduate program, already has tenants, including a branch office of the Burlington- based law firm Downs Rachlin Martin, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the state of Vermont, and Commonwealth Dairy, among others.

According to the college, part of the sale agreement includes shifting the debt that Marlboro College owed on the building to part of its extensive land holdings in Marlboro, making the full sale price available for operations.

The college says this comes at a vital time, as it works to build on its academic program and revitalize enrollment in response to current market pressures.

“This is an extremely positive development,” Quigley said. “When combined with an agreement that is being worked out between the college and the Marlboro Music School and Festival, resulting in two new buildings on campus worth $10 million, it is just the infusion we need to get over this latest bump.”

“We will always be an integral part of the Brattleboro community, with or without this property” Quigley added. “Our students and alumni live and work here, our graduate programs support local businesses, nonprofits, and schools, and our events enrich the community culture. That will never change.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #473 (Wednesday, August 22, 2018). This story appeared on page A1.

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