Vermont Tech looks to add dorm space

Dec. 22, 2010

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Vermont Technical College’s Williston campus, where hundreds of students attend classes on a semester basis, recently asked the town for permission to double its housing for capacity.

While the school remains mostly a commuter campus, college officials hope to add more dormitory-style housing for 22 students and one residency director. The college already has rooms for 22 students on the third floor of its 72 Helena Drive building, which the school calls Williston Hall. Vermont Tech wants to build additional housing on the hall’s second floor.

Currently, Vermont Tech also houses 20 students at the New England Culinary Institute’s facility in Essex Junction, according to Brent Sargent, the college’s Williston campus dean.

“We want them all together here on campus,” Sargent said.

Since it opened in Blair Park in 2003 with 32 students, the school has now grown to approximately 480 full- and part-time students, Sargent said. Vermont Tech’s main campus in Randolph enrolls more than 800 students.

Through the years, the Williston campus has added degrees and classes that attract students from across northern Vermont. As a result, the college looked to offer housing opportunities in Blair Park. The college bought the three-story Helena Drive office building in 2008, transforming the first and second floors into office and classroom space. The college completed the third floor dorms last year.

Stelletta Salon still occupies space on the first floor and renewed its lease for another five years as per its original contract, Sargent said. He said the college plans to honor the salon’s lease.

The third floor dorms proved popular with the students who lived there last school year, Sargent said. The dorms, a mix of single and double occupancy rooms, encircle a common area complete with a kitchen, sofas and a large-screen television. Nearly all the rooms feature extensive views of the Green Mountains or the Adirondacks.

“The students by and large really like what we have up there a lot,” Sargent said.

He explained that the proposed plan for the second floor housing will be all double rooms, with the exception of a single occupancy room for a residency director.

Building the extra dorms would require additional sewer use, and Williston has a sewage allotment from the wastewater facility in Essex Junction. College representatives asked the Selectboard for 1,015 gallons of sewer allocation at its Dec. 6 meeting.

At the meeting, Planning and Zoning Director Ken Belliveau said the Selectboard had approved a similar request in 2008 when Vermont Tech started its renovation of Williston Hall. The board approved the sewer allocation request on Dec. 6, but noted that only 3,290 gallons of sewer allocation is available for the commercial and industrial portion of town through fiscal year 2011, which ends June 30.

Vermont Tech has already earned a pre-application building permit from the Development Review Board. With the sewer allocation, the school can now pursue a discretionary permit, Belliveau said.

Belliveau said a representative of the college will appear before the Development Review Board on Jan. 25. If the board approves the housing plans, Sargent said the rooms may be ready for the fall 2011 semester.

The new dorm space would bump out two classrooms and five office spaces, Sargent said.

“There will be some logistical puzzles we’ll have to solve,” he said. “For now, we’ll just do with what we have.”

Vermont Tech continues investigating more parking options in and around Blair Park and Taft Corners. Commuter parking remains limited and Sargent said the school needs to find a solution as soon as possible. As for additional space, Vermont Tech maxed out its 50,000 square-foot campus last year. Sargent said the school discussed moving into portions of Finney Crossing when it’s developed, but will be looking for other options as well. The school is also considering further alternatives for additional housing, Sargent said.

More space will become necessary as the Williston campus continues adding programs, Sargent said. Next year, the college will add a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a bachelor’s program for students interested in becoming commercial airline pilots.