By Susan Smallheer, Brattleboro Reformer:,597542

BELLOWS FALLS — Rockingham residents started to map a path Thursday toward their shared goals of reusing old buildings, creating a youth-led youth center and making a concerted push toward energy conservation.

Three task forces under Let’s Take Action were established Thursday during the last meeting of the community visit by the Vermont Council on Rural Development. The task forces will start meeting individually in the coming weeks, and start taking steps toward accomplishing their goals.

All of those things are doable, Jenna Koloski, community policy manager for the council, told the gathering at the Bellows Falls Middle School.

“It’s a great vision,” she said.

Paul Costello, executive director of the council, said Rockingham was the second town the council had ever worked with – back in 1999.

Back then, Costello said, the top priority was restoring the clock tower in the Rockingham Town Hall. And a second goal was establishing a movie theater in the town-owned Bellows Falls Opera House.

People laughed. Both goals have been met.

Rockingham and Bellows Falls officials invited the council back last year for a return visit and evaluation.

The three main topics were chosen last month during presentations on about 20 topics.

The task force that is focused on reusing old buildings agreed to hold a meeting with all the relevant organizations for a strategic planning session, with the goal of coming up with a detailed inventory of buildings that would be available for redevelopment.

That inventory, said Ben Cook, an official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture who is working with the council, could be “pictures of beautiful buildings,” or a detailed analysis of buildings, both commercial and residential, that are available.

The buildings most often mentioned were the Chemco building, the Adams Grist Mill, the former YMCA building, the TLR building, the Moore & Thompson Lower Mill, the train station and the Hotel Windham.

All agreed that the town’s website is in drastic need of an overhaul.

All three groups agreed that a strategy is needed, if not a website, to communicate information about the progress of each task force, preferably independent of the town’s website.

Koloski, who worked with the youth center group, said the discussion ranged from communicating the group’s ideas to the wider community, and determining how it is different from the Rockingham Recreation Center, and a tiny, already existing, youth center.

It already exists in a small space, she said, and the space is not big enough for the youth center supporters’ ideas.

The third task force wants to focus on helping Rockingham residents, including Bellows Falls and Saxtons River, to weatherize their homes with the goal of reducing energy consumption. Costello said the group wants to organize a weatherization tour, encourage a community solar project, as well as composting strategies, and initiate transportation energy reform, such as shared rides and a “community hitching post.”

The three task forces will be chaired by Ray Massucco, reusing buildings; Laurel Green, energy conservation; and the youth center group still needs a chairman.

Teresa Janiszyn of Bellows Falls, the chairwoman of Let’s Take Action, said after Thursday night’s sessions that she was encouraged by the interest and strong turnout to the three meetings. More than 160 people attended the first two sessions, and Thursday’s gathering drew about 100 people.

Many people in the community that are involved in different organizations are at “maximum capacity,” she said.

The Let’s Take Action meetings “have brought new people and energy” into the community, she said.

“It’s a re-invigoration of the community,” she said.

Koloski said the council will be issuing a report, summing up the three local meetings. “The community now takes the lead,” she said. “We’re confident and we’re rooting for you,” she told the gathering.

Contact Susan Smallheer at [email protected]