Transforming An Iconic Building
PUBLIC INFORMATIONAL MEETINGS:
NEXT PUBLIC MEETING - May 22 at the multi-purpose room on the third floor of the Firehouse located at 130 River Street in Bennington, at 6:00 pm. This meeting will be for public comment on the project, or you may use the comment form located at the bottom of this page. Draft Terms of the Development Agreement between the Town and Hale Resources will also be discussed at this meeting and is now available for review in the project documents list on the sidebar.
Previous Public Meetings
A public meeting was held on Monday, April 24, 2023, at 6:00 pm as part of the Select Board meeting that day. The meeting was held at the multi-purpose room on the third floor of the Firehouse located at 130 River Street in Bennington. At this meeting we shared updated floor plans and details on how the project will be funded. A PDF of the updated floor plans is available on the project documents list on the sidebar. You can view the video by clicking here. The presentation starts at 18:00 minutes.
The subject was discussed again at the Select Board meeting on Monday, October 24, 2022. The Select Board chose to vote on the staff recommendations at this meeting; authorizing staff to commit $2 million in ARPA funds to this project, contingent on grants and other funding being secured for the entirety of phase one of the community (town) portion of the project. The full Staff recommendations are detailed in the public presentation slide deck that are included in the document list. A link to the video of the meeting is available here.
A public meeting was held on Wednesday, October 19, 2022, from 5:30 pm to 7:00 pm at the multi-purpose room on the third floor of the Firehouse located at 130 River Street in Bennington. A link to the video is available here. The slide deck for the presentation is available in the project documents list on the sidebar.
An update on progress was presented at the Select Board meeting on December 19, 2022. You can view the agenda and meeting packet here . The meeting was not broadcast "live" on CAT TV due to a scheduling conflict, but was recorded. You can view the recording on the CAT TV website or YouTube. A link to the video is available here.
A form to share your comments on the project is at the bottom of this page.
The historic Bennington High School located at 650 Main Street was first built in 1913, and was used as a high school from 1914 until 1967 when the new high school on Park Street was ready for occupancy. The building then served as the middle school from 1968 through 2004 when it was closed and the middle school moved to East Road. The building had been renovated three times over this period; in 1939, 1958, and in 1975. The building is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Since 2004 the building has remained vacant. The property has been called various names including; Benhi, BennHi, BenHi, Benn Hi, and other variations. We will refer to it as the "Benn High" for the purposes of this web page as we await a definitive decision on the preferred abbreviation.
Recent Investments In Benn High
The Benn High property was purchased in early 2020 by Christopher Gilbert of Dorset, VT and Red Hook, NY, for a purchase price of $146,000. The building was in rough shape with the accumulated years of vacancy having taken its toll. Gilbert has done a lot of work on the building to stabilize it and begin renovations; including a new insulated roof, cleanup, trash removal, broken glass replacement, new locks and hardware, six new gas heating systems with gas tanks and related hardware and ductwork, new plumbing, including new underground water line, repairs and updates to sprinkler systems, architectural work, engineering, elevator updates and repairs, electrical work, security, insulation, drywall, ceiling tile repair and replacement, flooring, and gym flooring. Owner Chris Gilbert estimates the value of the work done on the property to be over $900,000 to date.
ARPA Funding Creates Opportunity
In 2021 the Town of Bennington learned it would have 3.9 million in funding available for town projects and the Select Board commenced a public process to determine which projects to consider for ARPA funding. Two items that ranked high included a gymnasium for the Town and additional housing.
In March of 2022, the Bennington Select Board directed Staff to explore the idea of redeveloping the Benn High to provide a gymnasium, provide a new larger home for both the Senior Center and Meals on Wheels, and facilitate the creation of new housing. Town Staff has been working for the past six months on doing this due diligence and now are reporting back to the Select Board and the community with the findings.
Major redevelopment projects such as this are complicated, requiring multiple funding sources such as; TIF financing, Historic Tax Credits, CDBG funds, VHCB grants, and Tax Credits. A key piece of this is the availability of ARPA funding. The town would likely be spending between $1.9 million and $2.1 million of ARPA funds to make this happen. It is important to note that while some ARPA funds are being used now to perform the due diligence required for the pre-development work and planning for the project, the town will require all other funding sources to be in place before committing the full ARPA funds to the project as a whole.
Leadership from the Select Board and the community they represent will be essential to tackle a project of this scope. A public/private partnership is the only way to leverage the funding needed to make a project like this a success as the cost for redevelopment is very high, indeed higher than the ultimate value of the property when the work is completed.
In order to be able to expend town funds, get state and federal funding not available to private developers, and to be able to do the necessary project management needed to fully plan for the redevelopment, the town needed control of the property. Working with the owner Christopher Gilbert, the town entered into a lease to own agreement that gives the town both the necessary control, as well as the ability to terminate the agreement if the town decides not to proceed with the project. Just as this agreement was needed to enable site control, modifications to the agreement as new partners emerge and the overall project comes into focus will be needed in the future.
Benn High Redevelopment Project Summary
The Benn High Redevelopment is a public/private partnership between the Town of Bennington and Hale Resources, LLC to repurpose the historic Bennington High School building. The “Benn High” building at 650 Main Street served as the Town’s public high school from 1914 to 1967 and then as the middle school from 1968 to 2004. Since 2004, the 100,000 square foot building has remained vacant. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 2020, Chris Gilbert bought Benn High and made improvements to stabilize and clean up the building. The Town then began to use the auditorium and surrounding classrooms for community programs run by the YMCA. When the Town discussed uses for ARPA funding, Benn High was identified as a priority project to redevelop for both community use and for much-needed housing. In April 2022, the Town entered into an assignable Lease and Purchase Agreement with Chris Gilbert to gain site control of the building and began pre-development work on architectural plans and cost estimates for the community spaces.
In August 2022, the Town entered into an agreement with Hale Resources, LLC to begin pre-development work for the 70,000 square feet of potential residential space in the building. In October 2022, the Bennington Select Board committed $2 million in local ARPA funding to the Benn High redevelopment. The Town’s ARPA funding will be used for the fit up of the Town spaces in the Benn High building. The primary goal of the Benn High Redevelopment project is to bring a historic building back to life with a vibrant mix of housing, commercial space (including childcare, office space, and social services), and community recreation facilities.
The Benn High Redevelopment will increase the supply and quality of housing by creating 15 perpetually affordable housing units and 22 additional market-rate units. It will also decrease the number of people experiencing homelessness by creating at least 3 units for those who have experienced homelessness. This project will create and retain jobs in the construction of the new housing units as well as in the social services that will be housed within the commercial and public spaces.
It will strengthen the community and improve the quality of life by investing in a public facility that houses the Town’s Senior Center and Meals on Wheels programs, a recreation center with wellness programs for all ages, and a proposed childcare center. The Benn High redevelopment project aligns with the State of Vermont’s Strategic Plan goals of growing the economy, making Vermont more affordable, and protecting the vulnerable. If approved, the project is slated to begin construction in late 2023.
The renovation of the building includes a new geothermal heating system and heat pumps that will lower energy costs and adapt to changing climate conditions. This is a transformational project in an underrepresented area that is within Bennington’s Designated Downtown and in an Opportunity Zone. We have a unique opportunity in the Benn High redevelopment to address multiple community needs for childcare, senior services, food security, recreation, and housing. The project will foster economic growth, facilitate and improve health outcomes and physical activity, and increase community connectedness.
The redevelopment of Benn High by a public/private partnership made up of the Town and a private developer, Hale Resources, is planned. The schematic design prepared by Goldstone Architecture contemplates 27,000 sq. ft. of municipal/community space (Community Space), 70,000 sq. ft. of residential space (Residential Space), and 3,000 sq. ft. of office space.
The community space consists of approximately 14,000 sq. ft. occupied by the Bennington Senior Center and Meals on Wheels, plus approximately 13,000 sq. ft. of gymnasium space, exercise/activity rooms, locker rooms/changing rooms operated by the YMCA. This portion will be leased by the Town.
The residential space will include a mix of market rate and affordable housing. 40+ units are planned to include up to 17 affordable units. The development of the Residential Space is dependent on the Town developing the Community Space as much of the building is not suitable/feasible for residential units.
The office space will include about 3,000 sq. ft. of additional office/workshop space occupied by other community partners which will be leased through Hale Resources.
As is the case with virtually all real estate development projects, the greatest challenge for the Benn High project is identifying, assembling, and securing all of the necessary funding. One conclusion, however, has become very clear – the Town’s partnership with Hale Resources to cooperatively re-develop the entirety of Benn High makes it infinitely more likely that funding for both the development of the Community Space and Residential Space will ultimately be secured. Funders seek to leverage funds to accomplish multiple priorities. Most public funding sources currently identify housing and community services as high priorities. Funding applications that fail to leverage significant funds and/or fail to accomplish high priorities are not attractive to most funders. A public/private partnership between the Town and a private developer that leverages multiple funding sources to develop 40+ housing units and 30,000 sq ft. to host numerous community services perfectly aligns with current public funding sources’ priorities. In addition, several funding sources, such as tax credits, including Historic Preservation and Low-Income Housing, and State Designated Downtown tax credits, are more easily accessed by private entities (as opposed to municipalities).
Town Space Funding Sources
The Town will contribute the following funding sources which have been secured by the Town for the Community Space.
- $2 million for CONSTRUCTION in Municipal ARPA Funding
- $500,000 in SOFT COSTS in Municipal ARPA Funding
- $400,000 in value from transfer of former Senior Center Building (returns to tax rolls)
Residential Space Funding SourcesThe entire remainder of the $28 million dollar projects costs (including soft costs) will the responsibility of Hale Resources. A description of the Hale Resources funding sources as of 04/24/23 is available for download. Please note that this is a work in progress and may change over time.
Questions and Answers
Q: Will there be enough parking?
A: 65 parking spots are part of the proposed site plan. Additional parking may be available with a new parking lot on municipal land across the street next to the old Stewarts shop if needed. A parking study has been completed and shows sufficient parking. The study is available in the list of project documents in the sidebar/sub menu.
Q: Will the town lease or own its portion of the building when the project is completed?
A: The town will lease it's portion of the building.
Q: Will there be transportation from senior housing to a new Senior Center?
A: Yes. The Town has been in touch with GMCN the bus provider for the community about providing transportation from the senior housing on Pleasant Street to the Benn High location and they are willing to do so.
Q: Will the town of Bennington purchase the Benn High building prior to starting construction?
A: The Select Board authorized a lease and purchase agreement earlier this year that gave the Town control of the building that was needed in order to proceed with pre-development work. The agreement allows the town to back out of the agreement if the project ends up not being feasible, or if the Select Board chooses not to proceed. You can read the agreement and the amendment to the agreement in the materials list on this page.
Q: Will Bennington ARPA money be used to support the Hale Resources housing portion of the project?
A: No. Town ARPA funds will only be paying for work done to part of the building that the town would occupy. The residential portions that will be controlled by Hale Resources will be entirely their responsibility.
Q: Will Community Development Block Grants go to the Hale Resources housing portion of the project?
A: Yes. Hale Resources will apply for Federal Community Block Grants that are Federal monies, and those do pass through the town but are specific to their application. This is the same as anyone in the community that applies for Federal block grants; they all are channeled THROUGH the Town, but are not the “Town’s” money. Examples of groups that have received Federal block grants "through" the town include UCS, Sunrise Family Resource Center, Shires Housing, and the Putnam Project.
Q: Will tenants of the apartments have their own private parking spots?
A: The site includes 65 parking spots on site and there will be 37 apartments at Benn High, mostly one bedroom. (4-5 will be two bedroom). We can’t say as to what the lease agreements will entail regarding parking; that will be up to Hale Resources but they do not currently plan to have private parking spots. Since the community spaces won’t be in use at night, there should be plenty of parking for the apartments in the evenings.
Q: How will the value of the old senior center will be used or applied? Is it being counted by Hale as part of the town's investment in the $8 million?
A: Yes, the value of the old senior center will be applied to the cost of fitting up the Town's space.
Q: Of the ongoing costs to the town, all but 88,000 is likely covered in the existing budgets?
A: In essence, yes, but please review the slide deck from the presentation – the lease payment will be covered by a combination of funding sources outlined on the slide. Bottom line – no increase in taxes is projected to pay for the lease payment.
Q: What about the child care center? Is revenue generated from that going to the Y and would that reduce the town's management fee to the Y as additional revenue for them?
A: Not directly as the Y will be leasing from the Hales and the childcare is not part of the management agreement. However, the childcare center will likely result in economies of scale for the Y that will reduce their overall staffing costs which will result in a lower management fee.
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