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Gailer says no to Charter House purchase

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August 10, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — The Gailer School will not move into the Congregational Church of Middlebury’s Charter House after all. Instead, school officials will reopen their search for a new campus somewhere else in Middlebury.

Gailer officials confirmed on Thursday they weren’t able to raise enough money in a short enough period of time to buy the Charter House and finance the renovations necessary to transform the North Pleasant Street building into a school.

That means the small private school will continue to use the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society (CVUUS) campus as a temporary home, while it rekindles its search for a permanent headquarters in Middlebury village.

It also leaves the Congregational Church in somewhat of a bind, at least temporarily. The church had cleared the Charter House of tenants in anticipation of the sale, which was announced in March, and had begun planning an addition at its Main Street worship hall to accommodate Sunday school and other functions that had been based at the Charter House.

“We’re adjusting to the news,” said Russ Carpenter, moderator of the Congregational Church of Middlebury. “We are taking a period of time to search and decide what our next step will be.”

Gailer School officials this past winter signed a purchase and sales agreement with the church to buy the Charter House, a historic home that would’ve afforded staff and approximately 40 students handy access to local educational resources, such as the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History and Middlebury College.

The Gailer School was established 18 years ago in the St. Mary’s School building off Shannon Street in Middlebury. Gailer later moved into rented space in the former Jelly Mill Common building on Shelburne Road before returning to Middlebury in 2006 thanks to a rental agreement with CVUUS.

The CVUUS, which is in the final stages of planning a new sanctuary building, has given Gailer School permission to remain a tenant through the end of this academic year. School officials had hoped to begin moving into the Charter House during the coming months.

Now that won’t be happening.

“We raised a couple hundred-thousand dollars with the intent of purchasing the property this year,” said Alison Lockwood, chairwoman of the Gailer School board. “Regrettably, the Charter House did not work out for us for a couple of reasons.”

She explained the school wasn’t able to meet the fund-raising timeline specified by its lender. In the meantime, the cost of Charter House renovations had escalated to a point where the school believed the project would be unaffordable.

“The issue was not the purchase price; it was the cost of renovations beyond the purchase price that kept going up and up,” Lockwood said.

Gailer School officials told church leaders late last month that there would be no deal.

“We had an amicable agreement with the church and an amicable parting of ways,” Lockwood said. “We wish it could’ve worked, but the numbers just don’t work for us.”

Plans call for school officials to continue fund-raising in hopes of closing on another spot in the Middlebury area in the near future. The school’s site selection committee will reconvene to sort through options.

Meanwhile, Congregational Church leaders are looking at their options. The church’s facilities preservation committee will be meeting to help the congregation determine whether to keep the Charter House on the market, or maintain it as a rental property and home to Sunday school and administrative offices. The church must also decide how this latest wrinkle will affect its tentative plans for a church addition.

Carpenter said the Charter House is currently empty. Until recently, the facility provided rental space to the Middlebury Area Land Trust and Hospice Volunteer Services.

“Obviously, we had tenants in the building that helped offset the cost of maintaining that extra facility,” Carpenter said. “Now, we are without tenants.”

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