By Tim Calabro, as seen in the Randolph Herald:

Though the volume of people filling the RUHS cafeteria Monday night was slightly less impressive than the hundreds that took part in the first round of the Randolph Region Re-Energized project, scores of Randolph-area residents turned out to take part in the initiative’s second phase this week. By the end of the two-and a half-hour session, four priorities had been selected and task forces had begun to form around the work of finding innovative energy solutions, revitalizing the Randolph downtown, and attracting visitors to the area.

Randolph Region Re-Energized is part of the Vermont Council on Rural Development’s Model Climate Communities program, which gathers people together to figure out how residents envision their towns and what concrete steps can be taken to reach those visions.

At Monday night’s meeting, which ended a little after 9 pm, area residents voted to concentrate on four specific areas:

  • Reducing municipal and school costs through energy efficiency and renewable energy projects;
  • Strengthening downtown Randolph and attracting and supporting climate economy businesses and entrepreneurs;
  • Attracting visitors to the Randolph region; and
  • Finding energy-saving opportunities for homes and businesses.

Ideas Abound

During Randolph’s kick-off event in April, VCRD people brought a panel of experts and hosted several interactive events, each focusing on a specific topic.

At that meeting, folks from Randolph, Braintree, Brookfield, Bethel, and Royalton shared the strengths and weaknesses they saw in the area. They enumerated work that is already ongoing and took stock of what assets the area has to offer.

That first event culminated in a very large list of ideas and themes for improving Randolph and its surrounds.

Picking up where they left off in April, VCRD’s executive director, Paul Costello, and Jon Copans, who leads the Model Climate Communities program, returned having distilled the hundreds of pieces of input into a handful of broader themes that could potentially be tackled by a focused task force.

That list included such ideas as developing a regional farm and food network, improving access to broadband Internet service, making the region friendlier for walking and biking, concentrating on workforce development, creating a central biomass heating district in town, and improving transportation options.

Roads Not Taken

Notably absent from the VCRD list of ideas was anything to do with the arts or community gathering spaces.

The arts, Copans noted, already seemed well-represented in the area, but, after repeated comments from the audience, he acknowledged that perhaps he’d been too hasty to discount that as an idea. He suggested that, if people wanted a focus on the arts, they could vote to add them as a stand-alone category.

Tom Ayres, the executive director of Chandler Center for the Arts, suggested that the arts should function as a component to each of the proposals.

Copans went on to say that work already is underway to study community gathering spaces in the Randolph area. That group, the Tri-Town Community Places and Spaces committee, has received grant funding and is working with Rebecca Stone, a Bethel-based consultant, on the issue.

“We didn’t feel like it made sense to layer on another task force around that, given the work that’s already happening with the local group,” Copans said.

Selection Process

The evening’s events moved forward, first with a “visioning session,” where those in attendance were encouraged to share their hopes for the town and its surrounding areas.

Town Manager Adolfo Bailon offered a hope for a “small-town feel with a small-city economy.”

Josie Caruthers pitched “prudent development” that doesn’t ignore agriculture and open space.

Vincent Freeman suggested that the region become a “place where people come to do things.”

With those and many more thoughts in mind, the group got down to the business of debating their preferred projects.

Then came two rounds of voting, with those in attendance using colored stickers to signify their top choices.

Eventually, 12 proposals were winnowed down to six, and, after a second round of conversation, championing, and voting, those six were reduced to the three community chosen goals plus the energy-efficiency proposal that came preloaded with the project.

Now, the Work

As folks filed out from RUHS after the long meeting, many paused to sign their names onto one of the four task forces that will commence work on the final proposals in the coming weeks.

In the beginning of June, the four task forces will get together with experts in their respective fields brought to town by VCRD for phase three of the project and begin the year-or-more process of studying, recommending, and executing action items that will spring out of the four proposals.