By Don Keelan
I don’t wish to disturb Southwestern Vermont Medical Center’s plans to acquire the former Southern Vermont College, but wouldn’t it be much better as President Donald Trump’s Presidential Library? This idea is for real; not one of those vitriolic satires floating around the Internet.
Let’s be tragically honest, Vermont has not been kind to the President nor his administration. This hatred goes back to his 2016 campaign. I am sure the animus towards Trump will continue well beyond January 20, 2021, and there is not much one can do. But we can turn ill feelings into a financial windfall for Vermont’s tourism sector.
The former college is located on about 370 acres that border Bennington’s highest peak, Mount Anthony. The grounds have a series of buildings, ranging from the historic Everett Mansion to scores of dormitory rooms and a relatively new athletic building and student center complex. Its location is just over the New York and Massachusetts borders within a three-hour drive from New York City, Boston, and Montreal. A paramount location for tourists, researchers, and history buffs.
The infrastructure that presently exists at SVC can provide much. The athletic building might be converted into a conference hall for lectures and presentations; the dorms can be residences for researchers and scholars; and the Everett Mansion, a home for the administrative and technical staff. A room can even be re-designed to replicate the Oval Office.
There are, however, logistical and financial issues, and judging from the plan for President Obama’s library in Chicago, they are enormous. His library, still tied up in the courts, is expected to cost over $500 million and house millions of documents. There are so many emails (300 million) alone that the plan is to go digital.
If the National Archives and Records Administration has its way (especially under a new administration), there will be little funding allocated to President Trump. All the more reason to use the former SVC campus.
President Trump lost the election, but let us not lose sight that 70 million Americans voted for him. Also, a presidential library is not solely funded with federal money. There are legions of donors who would contribute to making the closed college into a presidential library.
Researchers and scholars worldwide would journey to Bennington to obtain a glimpse of the presidential papers.
Imagine tens of thousands of visitors who would vacation in Bennington and visit the library each year. Think of the dollars they would spend on the local economy. It would surely eclipse what takes place today.
The library would also employ scores of residents to staff the numerous positions created: docents, food servers, maintenance, librarians, gift shop staff, archivists, administrative personnel, resident scholars, security, and marketing. Moreover, visits to the library and grounds would not be seasonal–instead, year-round.
Some might say that the college corporation is presently in bankruptcy court, and the property would be too complex to convert to a presidential library. I am confident that the Trump personnel would have quite the experience working on real estate projects that had been through bankruptcy.
Vermont, starting with the governor, has not been friendly to President Trump. He has been the subject of non-stop criticism; the Vermont media has been relentless. The thrashing needs to end.
Vermont has embraced so much hate for President Trump that it has no room for love. It is time for the hatred to disappear and make room for healing. A start would be to transform the former Southern Vermont College campus into a presidential library.
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.