News, Plainfield

Goddard College Inks Deal to Sell Campus

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photo by Glenn Russell, VTDigger
The Goddard College campus in Plainfield is set to sell to an unnamed buyer.

PLAINFIELD – Goddard College has finalized a deal to sell its campus, a decision that is frustrating two community groups that had tried to purchase the property. 

The Plainfield-based liberal arts college, known for its nontraditional approach to education, announced that it would close down for good in April after years of winding down on-campus learning. 

On Tuesday, the college’s board of trustees issued a statement confirming that the college had entered into a contract to sell its 117-acre property, although the board didn’t name a buyer. 

In the statement, first reported on by Seven Days, the trustees said the unnamed buyer “submitted the only offer that would allow us to meet our fiduciary responsibility in time to pay our faculty and staff, pay off the debts to our creditors, and ensure a smooth transition for our students.”

Cooperation Vermont, a local nonprofit geared toward climate resilience, started a fundraising and letter-writing campaign in April to put in a bid for the property. The organization alleged Wednesday that Goddard did not act in good faith during their negotiations. The group’s communications with the administration were limited, and its members were not allowed to get a walk-through of the campus, according to a press release from the organization dated May 22. 

Michelle Eddleman McCormick, director of Cooperation Vermont, said in the release she has “strong reasons” to believe the buyer is a local commercial real estate developer “whose interests surely do not align with community needs or desires.”

Greatwood Project, another community group based in Plainfield and East Montpelier, had also been communicating with Goddard about its interest in buying the property and maintaining it as a recreational and cultural resource, said Lucinda Garthwaite, one of the lead members of the group. 

She said she was 10 days away from making a cash offer of about $3.5 million when she was told that the college’s board had chosen another buyer. She said the college refused to share who that buyer was, other than that it was a business. 

“We would have been very happy to talk with the buyer to say ‘hey, would you be interested in partnering with us or selling part of the campus?’ We would have been glad to do that. But we can’t find out who it is,” Garthwaite said. 

Garthwaite, a former trustee, speculated that the college’s leadership was looking for a quick, solid offer in order to afford severance pay for the soon-to-depart staff. 

“My guess is they didn’t even it didn’t even occur to anyone to consider just how deeply valued this resource is to central Vermont,” said Garthwaite, who also previously worked as an academic dean and longtime faculty member at the college. 

Another group has come forward alleging that the way Goddard’s trustees went about the closure and sale could have violated the college’s bylaws. The Save Goddard College Facebook group circulated a petition outlining the alleged violations, which include threatening the college’s accreditation, not meeting requirements about the number of trustees and committees, and not communicating about the college’s situation in an open manner.

In its statement, the trustees said they had received several offers for the property, and applied consistent criteria for each, including that they demonstrate financing and an ability to close the sale in a short time frame. 

It remains to be seen how much authority the towns of Plainfield or East Montpelier would have to oversee any development that might transpire. Garthwaite said she recalled from her days on staff that the college has Act 250 restrictions and issues concerning a well that provides water to the campus. Parts of the campus are also on the National Register for Historic Places. 

She admitted that she may be “tilting at windmills” with her attempt to counter the purchase. But, she continued, when she thinks of the influence Goddard has had on Vermont history and culture, from the founding of Bread and Puppet to the plays of David Mamet, she feels like she has to try. 

Erin Petenko, VTDigger

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