By Julia Purdy
Poultney is at a crossroads with the impending shuttering of Green Mountain College, but with characteristic community spirit, some 200 residents, in addition to 19 state and federal agencies, town officials, UVM, planners and the college itself, came together last Thursday, March 7 in a public meeting to lay all the cards on the table, brainstorm solutions and second-guess the future of the campus and the town.
The public filled the large East Room of Withey Hall to the rafters and the crowd was broadly diverse and highly attentive, with an evident undercurrent of anxiety.
Ted Brady, deputy commissioner of the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, moderated. He had “no answers,” he said, adding that the purpose of the meeting was to “create a great idea.”
The meeting format had three components: provide a candid snapshot of the town’s economy; assess its strengths and potential; and take any and all input from the audience.
Audience members, fresh from Vermont’s grassroots democratic exercise of Town Meeting the previous day, peppered the moderator, Paul Costello, executive director of the Vermont Council on Rural Development (CRD) with thoughtful comments that reflected not only visions toward the future but underlying anxiety.
“No one does it for you,” Costello warned, adding that “Silver bullets don’t work by themselves.”
Questions and comments fell into several general categories.
Students in particular clearly mourned the loss of not only their study fields but what GMC stands for. What happened to the GMC mission, they asked. “Community was the purest mission we had,” one said.
“We committed here … why are we all leaving?” said another.
One person noted that interest groups are “siloed” and should now pull together.
The Poultney Chamber offered to facilitate and capitalize on the “emotional strength” abundant at the meeting.
Some in the audience challenged the state and especially the Legislature to take the rest of the state outside Montpelier more seriously.
Audience member Tom Hughes, campaign director for Energy Independent Vermont, seemed impatient.
“I’m not sure that Montpelier gets it – we’re a town in crisis,” he said.
There were worries that Poultney might become a failed town. Former town manager Jonas Rosenthal noted that the town is obligated to a water/sewer bond payment and that rates will go “sky high.”
Summing up, Costello said, “We’re incubating a big idea here.” He cited coming changes worldwide and the need to try to capture “market share” – “How does that land in Poultney?” he asked.
To the biggest question of all hanging in the balance – how does the town influence the future if a private entity acquires the property? – Brady had a single word: “Organize.”
“This is one of the top things the ACCD is concerned about,” he added.