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R3 Celebrates First Birthday

2019-05-02

BY CECILE SMITH, as seen in then Randolph Herald: https://www.ourherald.com/articles/r3-celebrates-first-birthday/

Last Wednesday, scores of Randolph, Brookfield, and Braintree residents convened over dinner at the RUHS cafeteria to celebrate and discuss one year of community development initiatives under the banner of Randolph Region Re-energized. The group’s goals span from improving energy efficiency to supporting local commerce to attracting visitors to the area.

Better known as R3, the planning project is part of the statewide nonprofit Vermont Council on Rural Development’s Climate Economy Model Communities program.

“Things are really looking up in Randolph. Things are happening in these communities here,” said Jon Copans, who heads the Model Communities program for VCRD. He thanked many organizations, including Chandler Music Hall, Gifford Medical Center, RUHS, the town offices, and VTC, for hosting task force meetings and supporting R3’s work.

R3 Chair and VTC President Pat Moulton agreed that R3 has helped build momentum for community development in the area.

“What Randolph has done is [to] really step up,” she said to a well-fed and energetic audience. “All this work is really about long-term improvement and sustainability for the Randolph region.”

Peter Reed, who, alongside Damien DiNicola, was at the helm of the economic development and downtown task force, reported that his group had been working on tasks both concrete and amorphous.

Group members conducted interviews with business owners in order to create a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis of the downtown economic climate.

The group has also been looking at downtown WiFi accessibility and the possibility of installing electric vehicle charging stations in the area. Although applications for the charging station project were not successful in the first round, the effort is ongoing, Reed said.

It was good news for the task force when, in March, the town hired an economic development director, Josh Jerome, noted Reed.

Building Energy

Often meeting together, two separate R3 energy task forces focused on energy savings for public and private buildings, respectively.

Collaborating with Efficiency Vermont, group members presented the community with a “Button Up” campaign to help residents reduce energy-related expenditures at their homes, said Gary Dir, co-leader of the task force working to reduce energy costs for municipal and school buildings.

In addition to offering a workshop about heat pumps, the groups held an energy efficiency workshop for landlords, which Dir said was well-attended.

On May 13, group members will welcome the public to a retreat in Randolph village to plan for area transportation improvements, especially pertaining to electric vehicles.

Over the past few months, Representative Jay Hooper’s task force, which is centered around local tourism, has given heightened importance to events. The holiday lights parade in December and the Winter Fest on Farr’s Hill in February were both volunteer-driven efforts, which were met with high participation rates and positive feedback from community members, he said.

Other goals include launching a Randolph area website to provide visitors with information and developing good signage and mapping of the region’s recreational areas.

For Zac Freeman, Braintree resident and co-founder of Rochester/ Randolph Area Sports Trails Alliance (RASTA), R3 was “kind of the force that pushed it over the top and really helped us kick start a lot of ideas that were swirling around town.”

Randolph has taken many positive steps since April 2018, observed Freeman. Over the past year, outdoor events, including the summertime bluegrass brunch series he organizes, have helped boost local morale, he said.

The visitor task force also aims to establish Randolph as a major center for the arts in Vermont, said Sonny Holt. This year, group members created a self-guided art tour of Randolph and facilitated the first-ever winter studio and gallery tour.

“We’re going to continue to develop the arts in the region,” Holt said. “We have a lot of it. We just need to display it.”

Collaboration

Paul Kendall, of Braintree, explained that the visitor task force decided to investigate whether or not the town needs more lodging locations. A report funded by the Preservation Trust of Vermont, he said, found that three types of accomodations— bed and breakfast and Airbnb-style, downtown lodging, and a commercial hotel—would “all be compatible and … would actually be supportive of each other.

“They really meet different market niches, and success in one of them contributes to the success in all of them,” Kendall said, eliciting applause and noting that a hotel would contribute to the other R3 initiatives.

Providing closing remarks on the evening’s celebration, VCRD Executive Director Paul Costello said that the R3 group has done “terrific work” so far and that Randolph has many “incredible” assets in terms of agriculture, business, education, recreation, and culture.

In the face of climate change, he said, it is up to community members to step up and “build the answers.”

“It’s time for us to speak together with a common narrative about the future, a narrative of confidence, a narrative of creativity, a narrative of engagement,” he emphasized.

In Costello’s view, community engagement requires commitment.

“It’s a lifestyle. It’s putting yourself on the line for people. It’s not you do it for six months and then you’ve got the answer. The answer is part of the process and the process is being neighbors in democracy.”