Published in the Brattleboro Reformer, July 25, 2019
BRATTLEBORO —This coming winter will mark the third and final one in which Winston Prouty Center for Child and Family Development will host the seasonal overflow shelter run by Groundworks Collaborative.
It had previously been reported that Winston Prouty was looking for a full-time, year-round tenant to take over the space. But Chloe Learey, executive director of Winston Prouty, said it made sense to keep the shelter in the same place for another year because all of the logistics had already been figured out and potential tenants were not ready to take over the space.
Josh Davis, executive director of Groundworks, said the shelter will be run in the way it has been run over the last two years. Clients will be bused from downtown at night to stay in the dormitory then brought back downtown in the morning.
Davis said operations were “by and large, really smooth” last year and his group cannot be happier to go back to the space.
“It is the best stopgap we found while we’re doing work on the permanent solution, which we’re still 16 months out from opening,” he said. “So that will be ready for the following year.”
Groundworks is in the middle of developing an approximately $3.3 million project to host an overflow shelter, drop-in center and office space at 54 South Main St. The property neighbors the group’s current drop-in center, where services are made available to the homeless community.
GPI Construction Inc. of Brattleboro has been hired to manage the project, which is anticipated to be completed in time for the 2020-2021 winter season. With 34 beds, the shelter will have one more than the Winston Prouty dormitory.
It is believed that having the shelter and services all under one roof will be more ideal. Also, busing clients to and from the shelter will no longer be needed.
Learey and Davis said community concerns in 2017 about how the shelter would fit on the campus have been assuaged. Davis recalled “a lot of apprehension” when the plan was first proposed.
“I think that we’ve maintained our partnership through this and the program has worked really well in this building,” he said, crediting the clients and staff from both organizations.
Davis said the two groups had clear expectations and communications. He found the dormitory to be more comfortable for clients than the First Baptist Church on Main Street, which housed the shelter for 10 winters but was built to be a fellowship hall.
The one constant piece of criticism Davis said he heard about Winston Prouty had to do with limits imposed on clients. Once on campus, they could not leave until the bus came — although, there was a small area outside if they needed to go outdoors.
The space at Winston Prouty allowed for gender separation in bedrooms and showers. It also had a washer, dryer and a common area.
“I was doing work to find an alternative location for next year and we had a couple of leads but it would be nothing like the dormitory,” said Davis.
Depending on the weather, Davis expects the shelter to open somewhere between Nov. 1 and 15. He said this winter will mark the first time a seasonal overflow shelter coordinator will be returning for another year. Her name is Laura Chapman.
‘A community asset’
Through a $40,000 grant from the Thompson Trust, Winston Prouty is starting a campus planning process. The nonprofit purchased the property from the Austine School for the Deaf about three-and-a-half years ago.
“We really think of the campus as a community asset,” Learey said. “It is Winston Prouty but as we figure out who these tenants are and how to make it viable and sustainable, we need the community.”
A task force and subgroups will look at the real estate, financial sustainability, infrastructure and community integration. A facilitator will be hired to help with the process. Learey expects a final proposal to come before the board of directors early next year.
Right now, Winston Prouty is trying to find buyers for buildings and dormitories. The group is taxed on any property not included in its primary use.
“It is a deficit situation for us,” Learey said. “We knew it would be. It’s time to turn that around.”
Her group would stay in Vermont Hall but sell Holton Hall, which is fully rented, and Croker Hall, where tenants include the Vermont Wilderness School and The INSPIRE School for Autism.
Families First has a purchase option on the dormitory it uses. The Phoenix House has a purchase option on the Wheeler House it is leasing.
“So when we get ready to sell,” Learey said, “they are first in line to buy.”
Her group is having a 50th birthday party celebration from 4 to 7 p.m. Aug. 3 at the campus. The event will feature live music by Hipfunk Associates, barbecue dinner, draft beer, popcorn, snowcones, Vermont Gelato, a bouncy house, hay rides, a cupcake decorating contest, lawn games and prizes, alumni class photos, tours of the campus and walks inside a hot air balloon.
Reach staff writer Chris Mays at email@example.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.