Brattleboro's Winston Prouty submits bid for Austine campus


BRATTLEBORO >> The Winston Prouty Center for Child Development submitted on Nov. 5 a purchase and sale agreement for the former Austine School for the Deaf campus.

Chole Learey, the executive director of the Winston Prouty Center, would not discuss the details of the offer, but said as far as she knows, they are the only ones who have shown interest in the campus.

"If other people or organizations place bids, there will be a hearing and decision in bankruptcy court," she said. "But we haven't even heard whispers that other people are interested."

The Austine School for the Deaf , which was part of the Vermont Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, closed at the end of the 2014 school year. In September of that year, the Vermont Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, declared bankruptcy.

The Austine School campus is tied up in bankruptcy court. Brattleboro Savings & Loan holds the mortgage and is owed about $2.6 million and the state of Vermont has a $5.67 million lien against the real estate for appropriations made to the school over the years.

Winston Prouty had originally planned to expand its facility — at $2.4 million — on Guilford Street, but when bankruptcy was declared at the Austine School, the idea Winston Prouty could take ownership of the property made the most financial and strategic sense.

"Our current building is about 8,000 square feet," said Learey. "We were going to add another 7,000 square feet or so."

If Winston Prouty's bid is accepted, it would relocate its operation to one floor of Vermont Hall, which has total occupiable space of 53,000 square feet.

The Winston Prouty Center for Child Development provides inclusive education and family support to promote the success of children and families. It is comprised of the Early Learning Center and Community Based Services, which includes Children's Integrated Services, the state of Vermont's program for providing support to young children (infant to 6) and their families; the Early Education Initiative collaboration with Windham Southeast Supervisory Union; and Family Supportive Housing, a program to help families with young children who are homeless find and maintain housing.

The Early Learning Center offers early care and education for children age 14 months through five years. Childrens Integrated Services includes early intervention, family support, early childhood family mental health, nursing, and specialized child care.

Moving to Austine would allow Winston Prouty to expand its infant care programs and allow all of Prouty's partner agencies to work together under the same roof.

"That would be more efficient and make collaboration better," said Learey.

Financial assistance is available to families who need access to any of Winston Prouty's programs. "And any family is eligible, not just children from vulnerable families."

Currently Prouty serves about 50 families in its facility on Guilford Street. Moving to the Austine campus would allow it to add 15 or 20 more families. In its community-based programs, Prouty serves another 150 families on any given day.

Learey said Winston Prouty suspended its capital campaign when it learned the Austine campus was available. In the near future, Prouty will restart the fundraising, she said, adding money to purchase the Austine campus will come from a variety of sources including its own "war chest," community contributions and bank financing.

Current occupants of the Austine campus include High Five Adventure Learning, INSPIRE School for Autism, Garland School, UVM Extension and New England Center for Circus Arts. All of them have indicated they would like to continue to occupy space at Austine. Learey said she has also received interest from other organizations that might like to rent space on the campus, though she said she was not at liberty to reveal any details.

She also said a local organization has shown interest in its property on Guilford Street, but again, she could not release any information at this time.

Rather than pursue a long-planned $2.4 million expansion of its facility, including an early education center and community-based services, which is located across from Living Memorial Park, Winston Prouty decided to use its financial resources to purchase the Austine campus.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.


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