Burlington School District becomes ‘strong anchor partner’ for Vermont diocese, Rock Point Commons

Posted May 31, 2024

Burlington, Vermont, School District students tour construction of new facilities on Rock Point on May 29 with (far right) Rock Point Commons board member Alexa Visco. Photo: Kelly Kimball

[The Episcopal Diocese of Vermont] The Episcopal Diocese of Vermont has announced that space in two diocesan conference centers soon will be occupied by an additional alternative high school program of the Burlington, Vermont, School District, following the use of the buildings since the fall of 2020 by another district program.

The conference centers in Rock Point, sit on 130 acres of publicly accessible conservation lands on the shores of Lake Champlain in Burlington owned by the diocese. The diocesan office, the bishop’s residence and Rock Point School, a small, alternative boarding school, also are located there.

The land is managed by Rock Point Commons, a non-denominational board that delegates management to a small staff, including Kelly Kimball, its executive director since 2022.

In information about the new arrangement posted on the diocesan website, Kimball said she has been working to put the property on a more sustainable financial footing while maintaining the character of the property. “It became clear to me we needed a strong anchor partner,” Kimball said. “We weren’t going to be able to do this ourselves. It felt urgent to figure out a pathway to sustainability.”

“Discerning a sustainable vision for Rock Point Commons has been a critical component of our work to put the entire diocese on firm financial footing,” said Vermont Bishop Shannon MacVean-Brown, who chairs the Rock Point Commons board. “Kelly’s clear vision and dedicated leadership has been invaluable for Rock Point, and therefore for our entire diocese.”

Kimball reached out to nearly 200 organizations and individuals seeking potential partners, but the existing connection with the local school district is the one that bore additional fruit.

Bobby Riley, principal of the district’s high school alternative programs, said that students in the OnTop program had benefited from use of conference center space that wasn’t being used for meetings because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “The place just feels like a nurturing environment,” Riley said. “There was almost like an exhale we could sense. It made a difference. It really did.”

Adding the Horizons program would mean the diocese would dedicate use of two conference center buildings – Butterfield and Van Dyck – to the high school programs during school days, but that would require additional improvements, including a link between the two buildings, a two-classroom addition and an elevator to make the facilities accessible.

The school district has agreed to pay the $4.5 million cost of construction and sign a 15-year lease, with options for two additional 15-year terms. It has also agreed to stringent environmental policies. Construction already has begun, and an official ribbon-cutting ceremony is set for Sept. 9. Classes will begin in both programs on Aug. 26.

Kimball said the two buildings still can be used by the diocese when students aren’t present.

Riley said the school district was eager for the expanded partnership. “We have a population of student who typically have a bad experience with school for a variety of reasons,” he said. “A new environment, a beautiful setting, can say a lot about your experience with school. My hope is they start creating a new narrative about what school can be for them.”