High school students study in Community House’s new classroom space at the historic Holbrook House on Linden Street in Brattleboro.
Jill Stahl Tyler
High school students study in Community House’s new classroom space at the historic Holbrook House on Linden Street in Brattleboro.

Alternative school expands campus, program

Historic Holbrook House is now the classroom for seven students in the Community House’s new program

BRATTLEBORO — Community House has added a high school at 80 Linden St. to its Community School House programs and Oak Street campus holdings.

With the acquisition and renovation of the historic, newly renovated Deacon John Holbrook House, day students in grades 9-12 in the program now, for the first time, have a dedicated high school building.

According to the organization's website, it provides a short-term residential stabilization and assessment program for children 6–12 years of age, an independent and general special-education school for grades K–8, and a summer extended school year program for children in grades K–8.

"Community House has a focus on meeting children where they are, working with each individual to help them reach their full potential," says Executive Director Jill Stahl Tyler.

"Our motto is 'transforming lives through consistency, compassion and connection.' With this expansion, we are able to help a new group of students," she continues. "Opening the high school was something that people here have talked about and dreamed about for a long time. It's exciting to see it come to life."

Before the Linden Street opening, Community House School had three students in the high school program. As of Nov. 6, seven are enrolled.

"Opening this high school was a priority for me from the time I started with Community House just two years ago," says Principal Barbara Barrett. "From my previous experience working in this field, I knew there was a need in our area for this type of school."

She said that she, Stahl Tyler, and the organization's four-person board of directors "had been keeping our eyes open, looking for a property that would work. This building came on the market. We were excited about the location and space."

According to municipal assessors' records, the organization purchased the property, on a 0.44-acre lot, on March 2 for $575,000.

"It's a beautiful old building. It feels right to be here," Barrett says.

'They believed in the mission'

The short-term residential program accommodates up to six children ages 6–13, who are referred by the Vermont Division of Children and Families (DCF), Vermont Department of Mental Health, and the Vermont Agency of Education.

The general length of stay for a child in residence is 90 to 120 days. The program is licensed by DCF.

The group has for some time overseen the day school for elementary/middle school students (grades K-8) who arrive in the morning by bus and return home in the evening, as well as the five-week summer program.

High-schoolers now studying at Linden Street will also be riding the bus to and from school.

The Oak Street main campus includes the residential building and, across the parking lot, the K-8 school building and administrative offices.

Transforming the building to a school has taken some doing, Stahl Tyler says.

"When we first walked through 80 Linden, we could see how the building could work," she says. "The fire inspection pointed out the need for a better secondary egress, and that meant some renovations."

She says the building's sellers, listed in town records as Linden Street Properties LLC, "worked with us. They believed in the mission."

"Once we started on the renovations for the stairs, and we hired an architect, we decided to add in a few bathrooms. We had to install a fire alarm system, change several doors," Stahl Tyler adds.

"We've also updated drainage, plumbing, electrical wiring, and flooring," she says. "We're still painting and pulling down some wallpaper. The local tradespeople have been great to work with - they have done a lot in a short time to get us up and running this fall."

How it works

Tyler explains the overall program as intended for "children who haven't found success in a traditional school environment."

"We are an alternative learning environment for students with different learning styles." she says. "We can offer them a different educational environment with different staffing ratios for their individualized goals."

Children are sent by their respective home high schools to Community School House after it has been decided "that this would be a better fit for them academically," she explains.

Community School House follows the students' educational needs and graduation requirements from their home schools. Students will be graduated from those schools on successful completion of 12th grade.

Each sending school pays tuition to Community School House, which focuses on academics in the mornings and on different courses in the afternoons.

Right now one afternoon each week involves focusing on personal finance and "learning how to manage money and be prepared for the real world," Stahl Tyler says.

The school also offers internships through which students can shadow those operating community businesses.

Stahl Tyler says Barrett and other administrators hope to add entrepreneurial training and real-life business skill-building to the high school program.

Since it opened on Nov. 6, the seven students enrolled at Linden Street and their teachers have been pleased, she says.

"I went in this morning and talked with them and one young girl, a new student, I think a ninth-grader, said, 'I love this building; it's beautiful,'" says Tyler.

Sue Vincent, the high school math and science teacher, says, "I love what's going on here and what we're able to do."

Vincent is one of three teachers; the other two teach social studies and English.

Why expand to include a separate location for high school students?

"We knew the kids that come to the day school program may come for a year or less or for many years, if they start in kindergarten, and then we didn't have an option for them to continue on with us after eighth grade," Stahl Tyler says.

"We also knew the community was asking, and the Brattleboro Retreat school closed a couple of years ago," she continues. "There just really isn't a lot of offerings for high school-age students in this area, particularly for girls."

Holbrook House history

The Federal-style building was designed and built by local carpenter Nathaniel Bliss in 1825 for prominent local businessman John Holbrook.

As described by its then-owner, Greenfield, Massachusetts, architect James Britton, on the nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places, where it was listed in 1982, the house "remains as one of the village's finer late Federal period houses and has undergone little alteration through the years."

"The interior craftsmanship make it one of the more unusual and outstanding houses in Vermont," Britton wrote.

Holbrook, who hailed from Massachusetts, worked in southern Vermont as a surveyor and eventually became part owner of a general store in Newfane.

Expanding his business interests to importing and exporting goods to and from Brattleboro via the Connecticut River, Holbrook was one of the owners of the first flat-bottomed boat to carry goods on the river. His son, Frederick Holbrook, became the 27th governor of Vermont.

The building has most recently housed offices for professional therapists and counselors and was managed through Otter Creek Associates, Inc.

Both Otter Creek Associates and Linden Street Property are corporate entities associated with Dr. David G. Fassler, a psychiatrist and clinical professor of psychiatry in Burlington.

According to listers' records, Linden Street Property LLC purchased the building in 2006 for $660,000 - $85,000 more than Community House paid for it.

Community House filed a record of a $488,000 mortgage through M&T Bank with the Brattleboro Town Clerk's office along with records of the property transfer.

"The owners quite liked our mission and were very fair with their pricing, and so we took out some loans and applied for a small grant," Stahl Tyler says. "We wouldn't have been able to do it without our own loans and the support of the bank."

This News item by Virginia Ray was written for The Commons.

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