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Collaborators For Community Improvement Gather To Celebrate Progress: Committees Developed Through Community Visit Process Give Update

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2016-05-27

As seen in the Caledonian Record: http://www.caledonianrecord.com/

ST. JOHNSBURY – A flame of volunteerism sparked in St. Johnsbury last spring continues to burn in the name of community betterment.

More than 60 people Thursday attended an update and cheerleading session at the town school for the ongoing Community Visit Process sponsored by the Vermont Council on Rural Development. Efforts began last spring with 280 people who brainstormed a list of five priorities and formed committees to address them.

“When you look at what has been done over the past year, it’s pretty amazing,” said Mike Welch, chairman of the initiative.

Paul Costello, executive director of the rural development council, lauds St. Johnsbury and its volunteer spirit. He helped facilitate process meetings last year.

“You guys have owned it, and that’s just really awesome,” Costello said. “We just love it.”

St. Johnsbury is an outstanding community, he said. It has strong leaders who deserve credit for promoting the initiative by promoting public input, he said.

“It has got this character, and great history,” Costello said. “It’s just a very strong and dynamic place to be. St. Johnsbury is very lucky to be where it is. We see it as the window, the opening, to the Northeast Kingdom, one of the most beautiful places.”

Jenna Whitson from the rural development council played a pivotal role in the process last year too. She praised St. Johnsbury on Thursday.

“It’s a great example of a community that really recognizes and rallies around the assets that are already here,” Whitson said.

Representatives from each action committee provided work updates. Town Manager Chad Whitehead attested to their progress.

“We’re seeing some real movement on things,” he said. “To see that energy is great. The town is here to continue to support that.”

COMMUNICATION AND PROMOTIONS

The communication and promotions committee is quite busy, said member Anna Rubin.

“It’s not just talk,” she said.

The committee has combined forces with the St. Johnsbury Chamber of Commerce. It promotes St. Johnsbury and local events through media outlets, and has created a new foldout brochure-style map of St. Johnsbury in the image of a historic drawing.

“It describes visually some of the things we’re so excited about,” Rubin said.

The committee is promoting a historic walking tour map as well. Both maps include information about attractions and events.

Tara Robinson Holt from the St. Johnsbury Chamber of Commerce said, “The chamber is really excited to be a part of this, and as a St. Johnsbury resident, I’m very excited too.”

WARMING SHELTER

The warming shelter committee met its goal on Dec. 7 when an overnight shelter opened on Hospital Drive, though efforts to establish the facility began before the community visit process. The shelter served about three dozen people before closing for the season April 30, said committee member Shaun Donahue.

“We are in the process of developing a final report,” he said.

A detailed operations report will be provided to the St. Johnsbury Development Review Board. The report was a requirement for permit approval.

The committee hopes to see the warming shelter continue next year, Donahue said. The committee has now joined forces with the downtown housing committee.

DOWNTOWN HOUSING

The downtown housing committee has tackled several major issues, said member Joe Kasprzak, who is St. Johnsbury’s assistant town manager.

Actions include reviving the municipality’s tax stabilization policy after years of dormancy and submitting a grant application for a comprehensive housing study. A grant announcement is expected next month.

The group also successfully lobbied the municipality to establish the position of code enforcement officer, Kasprzak said. The part-time position will be active in July, he said.

“That’s pretty big for us,” he said.

DOWNTOWN BUILDING COMMITTEE

The downtown building committee is focused on the dilapidated armory on Main Street, said committee member Irene Nagle. The facility has been vacant for years and hosts pollutants including asbestos and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.

“We’re going to create a vision for this building so we can start to seek grants for redevelopment,” Nagle said.

The town of St. Johnsbury must undertake a comprehensive PCB study before any significant renovation or demolition efforts at the armory. The study is estimated at roughly $20,000.

RIVERFRONT COMMITTEE

The riverfront committee is pursuing the creation of a pocket park off Bay Street across from St. Johnsbury Paper. The group has applied for a grant to purchase .6 acres of blighted property there, said committee member Adam Kane.

The committee furthermore has secured an $8,000 grant to study Passumpsic River access along Bay Street. Unfortunately the issue is extremely complicated for reasons including a mixture of public and private land, utility installations, active railroad tracks, and pollution from the area’s industrial past, he said.

Complications inspired the committee’s mantra of “succeed small,” Kane said. The tactic has meant a riverside cleanup day last year and will deliver an upcoming tree planting at the Green Mountain Power substation off Bay Street, he said.