BENNINGTON, Vt. (NEWS10/WFFF) — At a press conference on Thursday, Southwestern Vermont Health Care (SVHC) President and CEO Thomas Dee, FACHE, thanked two influential community members, David Newell and Michael McKenna, for leading a community-driven fundraising effort known as The Grateful Bennington Fund.

The fund’s aim was to raise $500,000 to support the health system’s acquisition and sustainability plan for the former Southern Vermont College (SVC) property. The fund shattered its goal by raising more than $566,000 in donations during the month of February.

“[Purchasing the property] was not an easy process,” said Dee. “It was a heavy lift for us, but it was the right thing to do, and the SVHC Board of Trustees had the foresight to make the decision to pursue the acquisition of this very important community asset.”

“We were extremely encouraged and humbled, really, by the outstanding community support we received,” Newell said, while also noting the many positive remarks that came in with donations and in letters to the editor.

McKenna reported that 450 donors contributed. He added that nearly 80% of donors were from Bennington and the average gift was more than $1,200. Donations came in from residents of 11 states and from as far away as Hawaii. The largest donation, $200,000, was from an anonymous Bennington resident.

SVC closed in 2019 amid declining enrollment and rising debt. Three months ago, the parent company of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center bought the campus at a bankruptcy auction for $4,650,000.

Officials with the health system have not determined any specific ways in which the 371-acre property should be re-used. However, they’re expected to begin working with county-level officials on a redevelopment master plan soon.