New Vermont Report Details Possible Uses for Windsor Prison

  • The former Windsor prison farm site in an undated photograph, included in a state report. (State of Vermont photograph)

Valley News Correspondent
Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Windsor — A report from the state Department of Buildings and General Services on the future of the former prison off County Road contains no specific recommendation, but listed several scenarios for use.

Those potential uses included a public/private partnership concept with the state managing the property and selling or leasing additional space to nonprofits, small businesses and other entities; selling the property’s 118 acres to the town; selling to a developer; and subdividing the property and selling individual lots and buildings to create a mixed-use development.

Other possibilities included in the nine-page report, which was released on Monday, include demolishing all the structures over time at cost of $1.4 million and returning the property to its natural state or leaving it in its current mothballed state.

“It was the conclusion of the appraiser (Martin Appraisal Services Inc.) that the highest and best commercial use of the property in its current improved state would be to subdivide it or create a condominium association and sell the buildings individually for a variety of potential uses including affordable housing, offices and light industrial uses,” the report said. “If the State did not have the capacity to take on this type of development project, it could be sold to an entrepreneur or real estate developer who could anticipate a profit from selling the individual properties.”

By selling the property to the town, the report said, Windsor would be able to have control over the site’s future.

“With the latitude offered by ownership, Windsor could lead the effort with the community and local business entities to arrive at a future use that would best serve their interests,” the report said.

While another possibility was to redevelop the site as a correctional facility after extensive renovations to some buildings, the report makes clear that Windsor residents strongly oppose such action. The report made no mention of the state Department of Corrections’ report on the cost to convert the prison to house 50-70 inmates in a transitional housing program as they re-enter the community. DOC was required to produce that report as a condition of closing the facility. It estimated renovation costs of $1.3 million and annual operating costs of around $6 million for the transitional housing program.

Town Manager Tom Marsh reacted favorably to the report, as did resident John MacGovern, who lives near the property and has been vocal in asking that Windsor play a significant role in deciding how the prison property will be used.

MacGovern called the report “a hopeful sign,” and in particular said the public/private partnership and private developer scenarios might be the best options, but only under the right circumstances.

“This vacancy continues to provide an historic opportunity for Windsor, Windsor County and the whole Upper Valley. But we must get it right. It needs to be thought through very carefully,” MacGovern said in an email. “As to the right property developer, it is certain we don’t want the wrong developer. For example, an out of state person without a track record in the region, would not work.

“Nor would one with a bad record,” he said, before mentioning several in the immediate area he said have demonstrated success.

Marsh said he doesn’t think the report has anything that would scare away potential developers, and it leaves the door open for discussions with developers to go forward.

“As far as the conclusions of the report, it is pretty clear the state does not want it,” Marsh said. “It would seem the public/private partnership or private developer are the most productive ways to go.”

Marsh also hopes the report’s estimate of $200,000 for the state to “maintain (it) in the current mothballed state” may encourage lawmakers to find a new use as soon as possible.

The report was commissioned by a Legislative act in the spring that charged Building and General Services with examining potential uses for the land and exploring the “highest and best use” for the property. The prison was closed in October 2017 as a cost saving measure.

BGS said in the report it contacted nearly 60 different state agencies and departments as well Vermont Public Television, the University of Vermont and Vermont Veterans Home. Only two state departments expressed an interest in using up to three of the buildings, though which departments were not mentioned in the report. Their interest was related to heated garages, workshop space and offices, but not the main dormitory or dining building, the report said.

The property has 27 different structures with a little more than 86,000 square feet, and the land and building were appraised at $1.1 million. The condition, quality and highest and best use is listed for each structure, such as commercial/office, light industrial or storage. A few of the building were recommended for demolition.

The prison land was bought by the state more than 100 years ago and began as farm run by inmates. It became a correctional facility in the 1930s and at one time had as many as 100 inmates. The entire property was around 900 acres, but about 800 acres outside the prison fencing was transferred to the Department of Fish and Wildlife in 2017 and today is the Windsor Grasslands Wildlife Management Area.

The BGS report will be reviewed by the House Committee on Corrections and Institutions when the Legislature convenes in January.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.