After years of meticulous planning, the Rutland renaissance is in full-bloom. This resurgence of Castleton College’s social, political and economic growth will now provide both rural and urban benefits due to local partnerships between the college and the leaders of Rutland, college officials said.
“ I think it will make downtown come alive,” said Castleton’s President Dave Wolk.
With the construction of Hoff Hall and the Pavilion to complete the president’s 10-year plan in 2012, Castleton did not intend to plateau, but recognized the campus itself had been expanded to its capacity. The initiatives did not stop, but rather took a right on Exit 5 and made their way onto Route 4 and into downtown Rutland.
“The Rutland renaissance is here. And I think the college has an important role to play in it,” said Wolk in a July feature of the Rutland Reader.
One of those roles is to become a strong political and public opinion presence in the area. With the help of Political Science Professor Rich Clark, Castleton opened its door to the Polling Institute on campus two years ago to begin surveying and collecting public opinion research data.
The Polling Institute has its hand in every area of politics, and extends its reach to areas outside of Vermont. With this expansive influence and growing contacts, the Polling Institute quickly outgrew its campus home.
“It made sense to put it right in the downtown,” Wolk said of the new headquarters location.
In February of 2014, the Polling Institute moved into the Opera House in downtown Rutland to establish Castleton’s political presence in the area.
“I think it will benefit the college in a big way. It increases the Castleton community and constituency,” said Clark. “Rutland really opens up that opportunity of a larger pool to pull from.”
Additionally, Clark said the convenience of the location to Rutland natives has expanded employment opportunities in the community and allows the college to benefit from the area’s year-round activity.
“We want to be good community partners,” he said.
Since February, the new location has resulted in an increased number of connections for the college and allowed for a greater ability to do outreach and exchange with clients.
“I think it will make it clearer to the people of Rutland that we’re there and we’re a thriving enterprise,” Clark said of the initiatives.
Also new to the Opera House is the Castleton Center for Entrepreneurship. Following suit with the college’s aim for community partnerships, a major goal of the center is to provide Castleton students with beneficial internship opportunities.
“We’d like all of our students to be involved in some kind of internship and mentoring opportunity,” Wolk said.
Chrispin White, director of the Robert T Stafford Center for Support and Study of the Community, has been a major force behind these student opportunities. His growing enterprise has revealed that most student internships are in Rutland, which led to the push for a base in the community.
“The beauty of it is that our professors and students will be more able to connect with these industries,” Wolk said.
In addition to the fresh political and economic footprint, Castleton has also made an artistic impact in downtown Rutland.
As part of a $1 million renovation project, the Castleton Downtown Gallery is located in the Center Street Marketplace and has consistently hosted the works of students, faculty and out-of-area artists since its opening in 2013.
Most recently, the college has established ties with Rutland’s Paramount Theater, to expose students to a larger array of cultural events. This partnership made its debut to a full house on Sept. 9 with the showing of the film “Hungry Heart” as a Soundings event.
“Having hundreds of students down there for an academic exercise mixing with locals was a beautiful thing,” Wolk said.
In the future, Castleton officials hope to expand the school’s athletic influence in the area with the recent gift of the Spartan Dome that will open in the summer of 2015. The dome, which is one of only a handful in the nation, will be connected to Spartan Arena and will contain an indoor track and turf field. Wolk’s vision is that this facility will not only be a recreational center for the community, but will also provide students will valuable internships relevant to an array of majors.
As the college emerges into a small university, Wolk said he is excited for the greater mix of opportunities that will be available to Castleton students.
“That’s the population hub. The challenges in Rutland are different than the challenges in Castleton. That’s the perk of a liberal arts education,” he said. “Our students gain real life practical experience in a variety of venues while contributing to the Rutland renaissance.”