By Kate Barcellos as seen in the Rutland Herald:

POULTNEY — School will be out — and not just for the summer — once June rolls around for Green Mountain College, and locals are wondering what to do once hundreds of students, staff members and faculty pack their bags.

The town and GMC will meet with local, regional and state officials to decide what’s next for Poultney during a mass brainstorming event in the East Room of Withey Hall on the GMC campus from 10:30 a.m. to noon March 7.

Representatives from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, the Preservation Trust of Vermont, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, Housing Vermont, the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD), the Vermont Community Foundation, the Rutland Regional Planning Commission, the Rutland Economic Development Corp., U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ office, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy’s office and various legislators have been invited to attend.

But VCRD Executive Director Paul Costello said no one knows just yet what will help lift the tiny town out of the gap left by the loss of its main economic driver, and the 150 staff and faculty positions that came with it.

“It’s a tough blow to the community,” Costello said Tuesday. “The energy and youth of the students, the economic benefits of having faculty and student presence … their dollars, their support for the downtown … this is a significant challenge to Poultney.”

The meeting, Costello said, would allow for the different organizations to assess what the citizens of Poultney want to bring to downtown, and that re-branding the town may be a key to its resurgence.

But what identity would present itself after GMC had been there so long, Costello couldn’t say.

“We see communities all around the state that build brand identity,” Costello said. “(They) look at how their downtowns work, look at what their core assets are, developing and attracting new enterprises, and incubate digital businesses in an age of online commerce. … Poultney has accomplished good things over time.”

Maura Carroll, executive director of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, said the organization is ready to provide whatever training, resources and legal advice the town might need.

“(It’s about) how we make a sense of place in a community. … This is just the beginning of a number of conversations,” she said. “I’m really interested in hearing what the community is looking for.”

Select Board Chairman Jeff King said the town is waiting to hear what the USDA plans to do with the property if it acquires it in June, which will happen if Green Mountain College doesn’t successfully secure a buyer, according to GMC president Bob Allen.

“That’s another business leaving the state,” King said. “That did hurt, but I do believe we will get something into that college. … We’re not dying.”

In addition to a potential local car wash coming to town and a proposal by Poultney Properties LLC to install a Dollar General, King said there are a number of possibilities on the table to revitalize the town’s economy. Or rather, resurrect it. In a press release, Poultney resident Carl Diethelm, who’s planning a new maker space in town, said the town has lost seven businesses on Main Street in approximately the past three years.

“You need family-generated businesses,” King said. “We just restructured our Poultney Downtown Revitalization Committee and our game plan on trying to entice businesses to come into town.”

With lakes Bomoseen, Hortonia and St. Catherine close by, King said a marina or boat-storage area would be a great addition to the town, and suggested transforming the GMC campus into a wing of the Veterans Affairs hospital.

That is, he said, if people can get to it over the roadways plagued with potholes and infrastructure in desperate need of repair.

“If you don’t have a good foundation, the building doesn’t last,” King said. “Right now, our state doesn’t have a good foundation. … It’s becoming increasingly difficult for a true Vermonter to live in Vermont.”

Town Manager Paul Donaldson said locals are anxious and excited to be able to speak with the USDA about what can be done with the GMC property, and experts who can help the town now that over 500 younger minds with fresh ideas will be leaving town.

“The key here is, it’s kind of a listen-and-learn what the road ahead is,” said Nate Formalarie, communications director for the state’s Agency of Commerce and Community Development.

“In a time of challenge, you look to your assets first, so we think Poultney has a lot to work from,” Costello said.