In a recent communication to legislators and State of Vermont government officials, the current renters at the Norwich property made a number of assertions we wish to clarify.
The current renters, Chris Gray and Laura Brown, were notified on March 16, 2018 of the college’s intention to not renew their lease past June of 2021. This notification window met the requirements of the lease agreement, designed to provide the renters with ample time to find alternative housing and business operations. The average rate for rent of two-bedroom housing in the town of Norwich is over $1,700 a month. For the duration of their five-year lease, the renters have paid $500 a month for use of the farm, the farm house, barns, creamery building and equipment, and related property. The System has provided subsidized housing and agriculture property for the duration of the renters’ five-year lease.
The System was approached by a foundation affiliated with the renters to sell the $1.7M property for $610,000, or 36% of its market value. Selling the property for a fraction of its market value would again subsidize the for-profit business located at the property at the detriment of the college students and employees of the VSC. As part of the transformation for long-term sustainability, the college is divesting of a number of properties no longer critical to its core mission of providing education. Sale of the Norwich property stands to benefit students served by this mission with reinvestment in educational facilities and technology, and lowering the debt of the System as mandated by the Legislative Select Committee on the Future of Public Higher Education in Vermont. The System bears an ethical and fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers with its use of public funds and assets.
Use of the Norwich property is governed by the Town of Norwich zoning by-laws. There was no gift restriction placed on the property at the time of its donation to the college, nor is there any deed restriction limiting its use to agriculture purposes.
Vermont Tech takes enormous pride in its educational role in the agriculture industry in Vermont and the region. We serve the citizens, family farms, and food-system organizations through the development of tomorrow’s food entrepreneurs and next-generation farmers. This is our purpose in Vermont’s agriculture industry; not to subsidize private businesses at the expense of student-based investment.