Bennett project gets boost with $554,000 county grant

MILLBROOK — The Millbrook Community Partnership (MCP), the 501(c)(3) nonprofit behind the renovation of the former Bennett College, is still celebrating its good fortune weeks after learning that County Executive Marc Molinaro awarded it a portion of a $2.2 million grant from Dutchess County’s Partnership for Manageable Growth (PMG) program. Molinaro made the announcement on Monday, Jan. 24.

“We are pleased to announce that [MCP] has received a $554,000 grant from Dutchess County’s [PMG] towards converting the deteriorated Bennett College campus into a community park” said MCP President Oakleigh Thorne on Monday, Feb. 14, expressing his thanks to Molinaro and the PMG program for what he said is an “important grant which will enable us to build a green gateway to the village of Millbrook and create an open space for public enjoyment and recreation.”

The former Bennett College grounds, located at the southern entrance way to the village where Franklin Avenue begins at the intersection of routes 343 and 82, is being renovated by MCP to form a community park.

The college closed years ago and the once-lovely buildings have since fallen into disrepair. The property has long been an eyesore and a source of contention among many residents and business owners. Its future has long been questioned by community members at countless Village Board meetings.

Thorne said MCP was very excited to learn the project would be awarded more than half a million dollars in funding from the PMG program, as it will allow a lot of work to get done on the project.

According to Chair of the Dutchess County Legislature Gregg Pulver (R-19), a resident of Pine Plains, the Bennett renovation is the ideal recipient.

“The PMG grants have been around for awhile,” he said. “Both the town and the village felt the Bennett project becoming a recreational park area was a worthwhile endeavor and applied for the grant. We were happy to accommodate them, because the Bennett property is the entrance to Millbrook, and it will be nice to see the entryway looking good again.”

Molinaro agreed it made for a good application.

“Dutchess County remains a leader in the protection of farmland and open space, and our PMG allows us to do so — maintaining both our agrarian heritage and our county’s visual splendor for years to come,” he said. “The convergence of the deteriorating, former Bennett College campus into a public park will revitalize an important historical and cultural site located at the southern gateway to the Village of Millbrook and return it to the public realm for future generations to enjoy.”

The project includes creating an open landscaped green space on the 32-acre Bennett property to use as a site for fairs, markets, etc., with a bandstand for concerts and other performances. Demolition of the old college buildings has already begun. Once completed, there will be parks, walking and bike trails and a parking lot.

The Bennett project is part of a two-pronged, $21 million initiative by MCP to revitalize both the former college site as well as the Thorne Building, a 125-year-old Beaux-Arts former high school on the other end of Franklin Avenue.

The Thorne Building Community Center (TBCC) is also a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. It is currently in the midst of being converted from its former life as a school building into a multi-purpose community center after it also fell into disrepair during the past several decades.

MCP and local leaders are hoping the two public spaces, which will ultimately be connected via walkable green space, will enrich the civic and cultural lives of community members.

MCP has partnered with TBCC, The Millbrook Tribute Garden and the Thorne family, who are charged with raising the $20 million budgeted to complete both projects. They will ultimately manage the operations of the two facilities.

PMG grants were created in 1999 to help protect important agricultural and open space resources with local funds for land preservation purchases up to 50% of the total project cost.

Four additional PMG grants went to Hahn Farm in Pleasant Valley, Heritage Acres in Fishkill, Obercreek Farm in Wappingers Falls and Primrose Hill Farm in Clinton.

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