The board heard from Wilmington School Board Chair Phil Taylor and Steve Goldfarb, the long term recovery “champion” for a proposed community center. Since Wilmington and Whitingham voted to consolidate at Deerfield Valley Elementary School and Whitingham School, the high school building has become the preferred site for a community center. Taylor and Goldfarb requested that the board match Twin Valley School Board’s commitment to provide up to $2,000 in funding for a grant writer to prepare an application for CDBG funds for a feasibility study.
Taylor said the school’s and town’s funding for the grant writer could be reduced by a grant from the Deerfield Valley Rotary Club, and there was also a possibility that reimbursement for the grant writer could be included in the grant itself. “In that case, we would be able to pay back the school and town.”
Taylor explained that the school board’s overall vision for the high school building is as a self-sustaining multi-use facility. “When we looked at the design of the (other) two school facilities, we looked at it in terms of how to get the maximum use out of the building,” he said. “The same idea applies to this. Can we create a facility in which there are multiple parties using the space in a way that makes it more financially viable?”
Taylor said the gymnasium would remain available to the community for sports and recreation, Town Meeting, and voting. “And we have no intention of taking anything away from the Farmers’ Day Fair group. Obviously, that’s a big asset to the community.”
Goldfarb said a number of groups are interested in using space at the school, including the health center, Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, and the Council on Aging, for their senior meals program. Taylor added that a local resident, John Langran, was working on a plan for using the building for events. “That would create an income flow for the community in the long term,” he said. “The grant will help us develop a business and financial model that will sustainably operate the building.”
Board member Susan Haughwout asked if the plan included the demolition of the 1900 section of the building. “No,” said Taylor. “That part of the building does have a certain amount of value as an existing space. If it were upgraded cosmetically, it could be the low cost office space in the BDCC model. But, depending on other uses, (demolition) is something we might want to consider.”
“Would the feasibility study include outbuildings?” asked Haughwout.
“Yes, one of the other parties said the MOOver was interested in making that a major transportation hub, which would work well with the school’s plan to use that as a transfer point for school transportation.”
Goldfarb said the proposed community center would also fulfill an economic need in the community, bringing more business into town, which would replace business lost when the school moves. “There’s also an element of continued recovery, post flood, to have this building which is at a higher elevation.”
“The building housed our emergency services and served as our command post,” agreed town manager Scott Murphy. “Just to continue to have that is important.”
Taylor asked if the board wanted to explore moving the fire and police departments to the high school as part of the feasibility study. “We weren’t considering this site for fire and police,” said Taylor. “But there would be a lot of efficiencies, with water, sewer, and electric already there. If you tear down the wooden structure, the newer part is really adaptable space.”
“I want to look at all options,” said board member Meg Streeter.
“I don’t think it’s off the table,” agreed Haughwout. “And I don’t think the public thinks it’s off the table. In a perfect world we’d all move out of the flood plain. That was a $1 million loss. It was covered by insurance, but how many times are we going to go through that?”
In related discussions, the board began to move forward with their own CDBG grant application process. Murphy, Haughwout, Goldfarb, Mary Wright, and Renee Galle attended a training session on the process, and Murphy offered some thoughts on what kind of applications would be successful. “One of the things they kept hammering on was ‘unmet need,’” Murphy said. “We kept trying to get them to define ‘unmet need,’ but they couldn’t define it. One thing we found out was that if you’ve already spent money toward recovery, you can’t recoup that. Some people had terribly sad stories about maxing out their credit cards, mortgaging their houses, and spending their 401Ks. They can’t get that money back; it’s gone.”
Wright added that people who have spent their own capital for recovery may be able to write a grant for working capital.
Murphy also said projects that serve people with low to moderate incomes, and projects with an aspect of economic development would have a better chance for approval.
Haughwout said the list of potential grant projects should start with the projects identified in the Long Term Recovery process. Galle noted that some of the Long Term Recovery projects had become less of a priority, and some had been changed significantly.
Running through a list of projects, board members agreed to consider relocation of the town clerk’s records and office, relocation of the fire and police departments, a culvert project on Cold Brook Road, digitization of town records, flood-proofing of Memorial Hall, the “Keep it in the Valley” buy local program, improved broadband and cell service, a community recovery coordinator, pedestrian walkways, river flood mitigation, and other projects. Board members said the next step would be to prioritize projects.