RVCC Is Coming to Lebanon
Lebanon — The Community College System of New Hampshire has purchased the larger of two former Lebanon College buildings on the pedestrian mall in downtown Lebanon.
Local, regional and national officials announced the $1.6 million purchase — which paves the way for Claremont-based River Valley Community College to begin offering courses in Lebanon next fall — at a news conference outside the building on Tuesday.
The purchase was made with a 40-year loan at an interest rate of 3.6 percent from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development program.
“As a result of the funding, River Valley Community College will be able to establish — and I’m so excited to say this — a new fully accredited, state-of-the-art academic center here in Lebanon,” River Valley President Alicia Harvey-Smith said.
Her words were greeted by applause from an audience of approximately 35 people gathered on the mall.
In developing the list of courses to be offered in Lebanon, River Valley partnered with employers, including Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Hypertherm, according to a USDA Rural Development news release.In Lebanon, River Valley expects to offer courses in business, information technology, liberal arts and humanities, Harvey-Smith said, adding that she anticipates hosting a grand opening at the new location in exactly one year.
River Valley, which currently serves approximately 1,000 students at its Claremont and Keene, N.H., campuses, anticipates the Lebanon expansion initially will increase enrollment by 500 students, with further room for expansion, according to the release.
Now, with the building in hand, River Valley aims to raise $750,000 to $1 million for renovations through a mixture of grants and private donations, said Kristyn Van Ostern, the Community College System’s associate vice chancellor of finance and strategic planning.
Needed renovations include a new furnace, phone system, security system and flooring, said Susan Henderson, River Valley’s assistant to the president for special projects. In addition, Henderson said, the school would like to replace the carpet flooring with new tile.
While River Valley is making building improvements, with an eye on opening for classes in fall 2016, the other former Lebanon College building will become home to the Ledyard Charter School this fall.
In early July, business partners Bob Haynes, a real estate executive, and Sutton, N.H., resident Bill Vierzen, who owns Title Mortgage Solution, purchased the 10,000-square-foot former Shoetorium building for $425,000 from Century Bank, which took ownership of both buildings at a May auction. Lebanon College had purchased the building for $725,000 in 2008.
Ledyard Charter School, an alternative public high school established in 2009, now will lease the classroom space on the building’s ground floor. The school, which is set to open for the year on Monday, previously has occupied an office space in the Whipple Block on the southern side of the pedestrian mall.
“They’re taking care of a population of students that deserves to be taken care of,” said Haynes, who attended Tuesday’s news conference. “We saw it as a good opportunity to do something good there.”
Haynes said he and Vierzen still are seeking a tenant for the building’s first floor. He said a restaurant or brew pub to balance out Three Tomatoes and Salt hill Pub at the other end of the pedestrian mall would be “dynamite.”
The Community College System’s $1.6 million loan from Rural Development is the first time a community college in the region has utilized such a loan since they were enabled through a provision in the 2014 Farm Bill said Ted Brady, the director of the Rural Development program in Vermont and New Hampshire.Educational opportunities are an important part of a vibrant downtown, said officials gathered at Tuesday’s news conference. They said they hoped the Community College System’s successful use of the Rural Development loan would become a model for other community colleges around the country.
Brady described community colleges as the “backbone of our national economy,” providing individuals with the training they need to get jobs and employers with the trained workforce they need.
U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., described River Valley’s expansion to Lebanon as the “most concrete result I’ve had from running for Congress.”
Kuster put forward the amendment to the farm bill that created the provision allowing for Rural Development to grant such loans to community colleges.
“I have to tell you my heart just jumps at the prospect of 500 students getting the opportunity for higher education right here in Lebanon for all that means for the Upper Valley for community development, for economic development, but most importantly for human development,” she said.
Further discussion of Rural Development’s loan and grant programs and the challenges facing community colleges in rural areas around the country took place following the news conference at a seminar at the Fireside Inn in West Lebanon.
After the news conference, Lebanon Area Chamber of Commerce President Paul Boucher said he had “mixed emotions.”
Boucher, who was chairman of the board for Lebanon College for several years and currently is treasurer of the Community College of New Hampshire Foundation, said he “hated” to see Lebanon College go.
Lebanon College, which suffered from declining enrollment and financial difficulties in recent years, was forced to close last August, a week before classes were to start.
As a solution to the vacancy created by the college’s departure, however, Boucher said River Valley’s arrival is “win-win.”
The chamber’s members on the pedestrian mall are “extremely happy,” he said.
Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3213.