The future of Vermont College of Fine Arts’ campus up for discussion

VCFA officials were before Montpelier’s Development Review Board on Monday night looking for approval on their Campus Unit Development application.
Published: Feb. 6, 2023 at 11:28 PM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Officials from the Vermont College of Fine Arts went before Montpelier’s Development Review Board on Monday night looking for approval on a plan that would allow them to repurpose buildings on campus now that most of the low-residency college’s classes have been moved to Colorado.

Neighbors, students, and faculty have all expressed concern with the college’s move and potential changes in the area.

“We were given basically no notice and told to keep going,” said Jessie Keating, a student entering her second year at VCFA. She says the decision last year to move all the low-residency college’s programs to Colorado College came as a surprise and with very little notice. “I’m awarded up to 15 credits per semester. The most we can transfer is 12, so it’s not cost-effective. I’m already in this.”

Despite the feedback, college administrators say the plan to move their master of fine arts programs to Colorado Springs is still a go. “For the first time, we’re going to be able to run our residencies simultaneously,” said Katie Gustafson, the college’s CFO. “Our campus did not have the space to accommodate all six at the same time.”

If a Campus Unit Development is approved, it would be easier for some of the buildings on College Hill to be repurposed for other uses, like housing and medical offices.

Meredith Crandall, the city’s zoning administrator, says even if the plan goes through, it doesn’t guarantee those things will be placed there. “But it wouldn’t have to go through the Development Review Board. It doesn’t have to go through a public hearing process,” Crandall explained. “If it’s a permitted use, it can just be approved administratively in the planning department.”

Neighbors of the campus and other community members say they’re concerned with the CUD application, calling it vague. “It’s impossible to establish any conditional use is supportive of a primary purpose if your primary purpose doesn’t exist,” said Alissa Dworsky from Montpelier.

“We’re seeking transparency from the college,” said Phyllis Rubenstein, who lives adjacent to the campus. “We’ve had a couple of meetings with them and we’d like to continue meeting with them to talk about what the vision is because right now there’s not a clear vision.”

Others, like former faculty member Tavia Gilbert, are worried moving the school out of state will take away its New England roots or lead to its closure. “It’s the only graduate program in the country that combines a range of arts beyond the visual arts,” Gilbert said. “It’s a jewel of a program and it’s being pulled out of Vermont without a conversation.”

“I think that many of us are concerned the college as an entity isn’t going to continue to exist, and in five years -- give or take -- College Hall will also be sold,” Rubenstein said.

The review board says they’re waiting on a traffic study, a more concrete plan for future uses, and a clearer idea of what will be left as open space before making a decision on the application. College administrators are set to present this information at a continued hearing on February 21.

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