By Chris Mays, Brattleboro Reformer. Published on June 9, 2021
BRATTLEBORO — After accomplishing goals set out in a campus planning project, Winston Prouty Center for Child and Family Development staff will continue considering what the organization’s leader called “incremental development opportunities.”
“We just want to keep the big vision in mind,” Chloe Learey, executive director at Winston Prouty, said at the Brattleboro Rotary Club meeting held remotely last Thursday. “We don’t want to do anything that would close the door.”
Learey announced a new partnership with the neighboring Delta Vermont, a business started by entrepreneur and inventor Bob Johnson of Omega Optical. Winston Prouty and Delta signed a memorandum of understanding.
The two groups have some aligned ideas related to housing that will help the region thrive, Learey said. The Prouty Delta Development Initiative involves an advisory committee exploring ways to leverage use of the 300-plus acres of contiguous land between the two campuses.
Creating more housing for different ages and socioeconomics within the community is the goal. Keene State College in New Hampshire and the University of Southern Maine were invited to propose ideas.
A design challenge in the fall will be open to undergraduate/graduate studios and other programs, awarding $5,000 to the best project overall and $2,500 for top projects in each track. The tracks include planning, design and real estate development.
Implementation will require exploring “creative financing options and partnerships,” Learey said. Her group applied for federal funding to help move the project forward.
The vision, she said, is to “create a sustainable place to live, work and play that includes a diversity of people and contributes to the overall vibrancy of the region by complementing what exists in the community.”
Delta Vermont, according to a document about the challenge, “was conceived of as an experimental site to explore ways of creating a ‘Better Place to Live and Work,’ by encouraging harmony with nature and the essential life situations of working and living.”
Winston Prouty purchased its Austine Drive campus in 2016. Campus planning began in 2019 and included input from about 70 community members with the goal of stemming losses and maximizing use of the property.
One of the recommendations in the process was to maintain ownership of the campus. Originally, there had been thoughts of selling off pieces of property.
“But the surprise was that didn’t really make a lot of sense financially so we’re going to keep owning the campus,” Learey said. “We’re not landlords. We’ve never done anything like this. Some of you probably thought we were a little out of our depth and still are, but we’re having fun and doing a lot of good stuff.”
Also identified in the process was the need to look at strategies to improve revenue and cashflow, and explore projects that aid the community in the long term.
Learey said A Bite to Eat opened up in a long-vacant commercial kitchen space on campus, energy efficiency projects were completed, and Lisa Whitney was designated director of campus development. The campus also welcomed new tenants.
“We lost one person and they’re back,” Learey said. “We, despite COVID, have accomplished many things this year. It’s because we have really amazing people.”
Learey estimated 90 to 95 percent of the 130,000 square feet of building space available on campus is rented. She said lease prices also increased, another goal identified in the planning process.
Her group is expected to break even this year.