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Bennington community defines goals


BENNINGTON -- Residents winnowed more than 20 potential action statements down to four Thursday evening with the help of the Vermont Council on Rural Development as part of that group's ongoing Community Visit Program. The group held nine community meetings last month on various topics and culled the ideas and concerns raised by Bennington residents into 22 action items that the Bennington community could focus on and pare down.

"If the community tries to do 20 things it's going to do them badly," VCRD Executive Director Paul Costello. "You need to be strategic."

He led an initial discussion that combined some of the ideas, and a series of voting eventually narrowed the list to four items:
* Develop a Bennington vision statement, improve communications and create a positive town image.
* Make downtown Bennington a destination, and build a new town green.
* Collaborate local groups to address poverty and expand dental care.
* Build a community center, renew and expand the town recreation center and build a skate park.

Other ideas did not make the final cut, but Costello said those could still be addressed by the town or even individual residents. Among the ideas that nearly made the cut were building a regional food system council, improving the local education system and its image, developing a community service requirement for local high school students, and expanding bike and walking paths.

A "community resource day" will be held on May 16 for town officials and residents to meet with a resource team of state, federal and non-profit leaders to assist in building action plans. Costello those attending the next meeting will be broken into working groups to begin developing plans to address the four goals identified on Thursday.

"There's no doubt that addressing these four directions would have a powerful, powerful effect for the town of Bennington," he said. "We have a lot of faith that a lot will come from Bennington's work."

Town officials have embraced the effort and welcomed VCRD staff to town. Many have participated in the meetings and have encouraged residents to do the same.

"It created a lot of excitement in town. Every time we do this I see a lot of new faces," said Select Board Chairman Joseph L. Krawczyk Jr., who accepted Costello's invitation to have Bennington participate in the program.

Local residents have turned out in force, too. Almost 400 people attended the forums held last month, and well over 100 people participated in Thursday's meeting.

"Without the whole community's support, the town -- manager and Select Board -- none of this can get done," said resident Roscoe Harrington.

VCRD is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to advancing rural Vermont communities. Similar efforts have produced positive results across the state, Costello said, including Rutland and Wilmington and Pownal.

NEAL P. GOSWAMI, Staff Writer,