Mark Skinner Building Sold

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After a run that spanned 117 years, Manchester's Mark Skinner Library closed its doors on Oct. 24, 2014. The collection it housed moved down the road to the new Manchester Community Library facility, which opened on Nov. 15.

The Mark Skinner building sold for $425,000, with the Manchester Library Board of Directors having been in charge of the sale. When it was initially decided that the Board would handle the sale themselves rather than list the property commercially, a committee was formed that dealt with the sale process. Board member Tom Deck was the point man for this process, and it was he who filed a change of use permit with Manchester Village to change the 7,000 square foot building from a commercial one to a residential use.

Deck said that he had been searching for a buyer for about two years prior to the sale.

"There was always a trickle of interest," said Deck. "Around fall foliage when town was a little more full of tourists it was busier. I probably gave over 50 tours of the building in that two-year period."

Of these 50 tours there were at least 30 different people and institutions involved. Not all of those interested were looking to convert the building into living quarters.

"Basically, the interest was varied," Deck said. "There were several people interested in converting it into a residence. We also had several restaurant concepts come into play, but the limited parking became an issue."

Deck defined this sale process as "atypical," for neither he nor the Board are real estate professionals. He also said that because the Board very much wanted to find the right fit for the village, there were a number of considerations to be made. They reached out to various businesses in Manchester as well as Manchester Music Festival and Burr and Burton Academy.

"It's a unique building," said Deck. "It has a lot of historic charm to it but it really takes the right kind of institution or the right kind of buyer with a proper vision to make a sale like this happen."

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The eventual buyer turned out to be Darren Foster of New York City. In an interview Foster shed some light on how he came to purchase the building.

"Myself and my family have been coming up to Vermont since 1985. My wife and I had our honeymoon in Ludlow," said Foster. "I discovered the house when I was staying at the Equinox Resort. I looked over and I saw a For Sale Sign next to the building. From the first time I saw it I really fell in love with it."

Foster stated that Tom Deck and Manchester Village were great to work with. He said that there have been two different contracts on the table for the sale, and that due to initial uncertainty he and his wife decided to back out of the first one. Upon seeing that the property was still for sale at a later time, he renegotiated with Deck and the village and went into contract in late August.

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"The issue was always the conversion to either a one or two family, or mixed-use building," said Foster. "The town was really wonderful in telling me that the property had been zoned for a one or two family residence in the event that I wanted to convert it to residential."

Foster stated that at this time he is not certain what he will end up doing with the building and he is currently exploring his options.

President of the Library Board Linda McKeever said she was pleased with the sale of the building, and offered comment on it in an interview.

"The Board of Directors is pleased that the sale of our historic building that was the home of the Mark Skinner Library since 1897 has been completed," said McKeever. "As we moved to our newly constructed Manchester Community Library we were mindful of our responsibility to the community to find a find a buyer who would be a good steward to the building. We believe we have found that person."

McKeever also spoke of how the Board intends to use the money procured from the sale.

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"The Board currently plans to use the proceeds of the sale to increase our endowment to ensure the long term sustainability of the Manchester Community Library," she said.

The Mark Skinner Library was built by the Skinner family in 1897. The family had a long history of service in Vermont and Bennington County. Richard Skinner was Bennington County state's attorney in 1801 and a member of the Vermont Supreme Court in 1815 and 1816. He was briefly state's attorney again in 1819, the same year he was elected governor, and went on to be chief justice in the Vermont Supreme Court after leaving the governor's office.

His granddaughter, Frances Skinner Willing, had the library built and named it after her father, Mark Skinner. The building underwent a major renovation in 1964 that doubled the library space and brought the facility fully into the 20th century. Philanthropist Sarah Larson, who provided the funds for the addition and also expanded opportunities for programming and services, spearheaded these efforts.

The Mark Skinner Library was governed and operated as a private library for most of its history, and only became a public library in 2003 with some municipal funding, a shift that was witnessed over much of Vermont.

While the Skinner building stood largely unoccupied and unused since being vacated in October, it did play host to the BBA wrestling team, who used the considerable open space it afforded to conduct their wrestling practices. While the space may have proved a boon to the wrestling team, prior to its closing it had posed increasing problems to a modern library trying to function within its walls. It was not handicap accessible or ADA compliant, and the antiquated infrastructure made the incorporation of new technologies difficult and, in some cases, impossible. Outlets were few in number and the building layout made it tough to manage space efficiently. Lighting and heating the building were both problematic, and there was a lack of a suitable children's area.

The consensus among the library staff and the Board was that the Mark Skinner facility was no longer viable as a library, and that to have renovated it would have been a greater expense than the construction of a new facility. That led to the construction of the new Manchester Community Library, where a much wider array of services are available, including improved technology services, a bigger, more private children's area, and the availability of large and small community rooms.

"It really is the last piece of the move," said McKeever about the sale. "It is the tying up of the transition between the old and the new. And from the time we decided to move forward our concern was that we were the guardians of a historic site in the middle of a historic part of the community." Foster is not sure of a definitive time line for renovation or occupation. He cannot alter anything on the exterior of the building without the town's permission, but on the inside he is currently having work done on the floor, plumbing, and fireplace.


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