By Keith Whitcomb Jr., as seen in the Times Argus:

MONTPELIER — Fourteen Vermont communities will see $4.4 million distributed among them for a range of projects ranging, including the purchase of a closed college building by Rutland City, to the revitalization of an old country store in East Calais.

Vermont’s Congressional delegation — Sen. Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy, and House Rep. Peter Welch — announced jointly on Tuesday that the $4.4 million is from the Northern Border Regional Commission.

Among the awardees was the Vermont Council on Rural Development, which received $286,000 to identify long-term economic resiliency projects in several communities.

“It’s to do nine community organizational projects to help communities define key priorities for community and economic development that will help drive them forward in the period of recovery,” said Paul Costello, executive director at Vermont Council on Rural Development. “In some towns, it might be developing a sewer system, on another there may be a big derelict building in the middle of town that needs to be redeveloped.”

He said VCRD doesn’t tell communities what their priorities are, it facilitates discussions in those places so the people living there can settle on something to move ahead with.

Which towns VCRD will focus on hasn’t yet been determined.

“Before COVID, we were beginning a process with Barre, we were setting a process up with Milton, with Barton, with Mendon, and then our work plan fell like dominoes. We’ve been engaged in COVID response work ever since, helping local communities being successful,” he said.

The East Calais Community Trust will be getting $105,000 to renovate the East Calais General Store on Route 14. Trust member Jan Ohlsson said when these funds were applied for, the trust was in the process of buying the building. Since that step has been taken, these funds will go toward renovating.

“Just for phase one, which is the portion of the building that is the commercial area and the ground floor, and all of the exterior work, it’s a project worth about $450,000,” said Ohlsson. “This is a big help, but we need more.”

In the northeast corner of Vermont, the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury will receive $350,000 to build an annex that will showcase an uncommon, for this area, style of construction.

“This is an addition to the historic Fairbanks Museum building, it’s designed around accessibility to make the historic building more accessible and have greater exhibit space,” said Adam Kane, executive director of the museum. “And the way we’re building it is as a mass timber building. Mass timber is an umbrella term for engineered wood products. Typically larger beams made up of smaller pieces of wood, typically glued or nailed together.”

The construction itself will serve as an educational opportunity for local builders and architects who may see an advantage in using smaller pieces of wood to form large structures.

Other awards included:

The Randolph Area Community Development Corporation, which received $475,000 for infrastructure improvements including roads, utilities, water and sewer projects, sidewalks and lighting.

Food Connects in Brattleboro received $184,250 to improve statewide food security infrastructure, and to increase the capacity of 80 farms and food producers to access new markets both in and out of state.

The Vermont Foodbank received $250,000 to renovate its Barre facility.

Catamount Arts in St. Johnsbury got $250,000 for programming and events that will leverage community assets responding to the pandemic.

South Hero got $110,000 for a 1,500 foot water main along Route 2 between Hill road and Carter Lane.

Richford Grocery received $175,00 to help buy a grocery store that will serve as the state’s first non-profit social grocery.

The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board received $256,907 for the Vermont Farm and Forest Viability Program, which will help 90 working lands businesses recover from pandemic related issues.

The Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund got $210,000 to promote the state’s forest economy.

The town of Fletcher got $439,443 to extend broadband along 34 miles to homes and businesses that need it.

The city of Rutland received $350,000 to buy the athletic facility at the former College of St. Joseph.

The town of Montgomery was awarded $507,107 for a wastewater project serving the village center.

Highgate received $482,053 for a 6300 foot water and sewer line extension.

The pandemic has exposed and worsened many of the economic challenges rural Americans face, Sanders stated in the joint release.

“The Northern Border Regional Commission provides needed federal funding to improve Vermont’s rural regions and create good jobs,” he said. “This program is now more important than ever to support our communities in their efforts to recover from this crisis.”

Welch stated that communities across Vermont are suffering from the pandemic.

“By investing in projects from food security to infrastructure, these grants will have widespread economic and community development benefits for Vermont communities seeking to recover from this pandemic,” he stated.

Leahy stated these funds will lead to concrete benefits for rural Americans and Vermonters.

“These projects will mean that more Vermonters will have access to broadband internet and to healthy and local food, and our towns and villages will be able to build out infrastructure that improves their vibrancy,” he said.