ROCKINGHAM, Vt. – At the Joint Board meeting on Tuesday, March 29, the Boards heard a proposal for the vacant lot at 66 Atkinson Street.
Municipal Manager Scott Pickup updated the Board on next steps, including working with archeologists and grading and seeding the lot. Considering future options, he said, “The lot itself has a lot of constraints.” Pickup acknowledged that Central Elementary School had purchased two flashing beacon stop signs for the crosswalk at School St. and Atkinson St. that will address some of the safety concerns about the intersection.
Michael Stack explained that he was there representing the nonprofit Bellows Falls Trades, which includes Board member Jeff Dunbar and Bellows Falls Union High School representative Sean Murphy. Bellows Falls Trades submitted a proposal for $75,000 on a ten-year lease to build a community garden at 66 Atkinson Street.
Stack said that Bellows Falls Trades focused on a work-based learning experience, partnering with schools, students, and local businesses. He explained that 70% of high school graduates after four years do not have college degrees. Bellows Falls Trades would create job experience in the garden, offering students the education and skills needed to design, landscape, and build the benches and raised beds. Stack also said that this could create an opportunity for renters to have a garden.
Chair Peter Golec said the Town and Village wanted to recoup the expenses of roughly $85,000 and preferred to sell it to an entity that would pay taxes.
Stack said this lot would maximize educational opportunities and offer a community space.
Susan Hammond said a ten-year lease gives the opportunity to utilize the space. She said, “I like having that space open.”
Elijah Zimmer favored looking at infill development at that location.
Stefan Golec said it was a lucrative offer and agreed that the green space would enhance the property.
Jeff Dunbar said he too was in favor of infill development, but this was an opportunity to use the lot now, bring folks together and give time for zoning changes. He said this “provides a contribution… ten years from now we [would] have a trade program that is thriving.”
Village President Deborah Wright was concerned about the heavy traffic, exhaust fumes, and safety on the corner lot.
BFUHS Assistant Principal and Bellows Falls Trades partner Sean Murphy said, “This particular garden will tie the elementary and middle school into what we’re doing at the high school.” He said students will have opportunities to access education outside of the classroom. Murphy mentioned that in-school training would give high school graduates the experiences and licenses needed so they are “contributing to the greater Bellows Falls community even sooner.”
Central Elementary School Librarian Jody Hauser said CES had completed its first year of the “Farm to School” program. She said the goal of the program is to establish a lifelong positive relationship with food, by improving nutrition and supporting youth and the connection between where their food comes from and how food choices affect their bodies, communities, and environment. Hauser said this program builds time in the curriculum and incorporates cross-curricular learning in the garden.
She said a stipend paid by the program will ensure garden maintenance through summer camp activities. Hauser acknowledged that this community garden would “support what we are doing at Central.”
The next Joint Board meeting on Tuesday, May 31 includes the Saxtons River and Bellows Falls Village Trustees and the Rockingham Selectboard to discuss the final reports of the Area Wide Plan and American Rescue Plan Act funds in the Lower Theatre of the Bellows Falls Opera House at 6 p.m.