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Town and Village

Board backs grant proposal for community center

GUILFORD—If members of the Community Collaborative For Guilford — calling themselves “CC for G” — get their way, the town will get its own community center.

Elly Majonen and Jim Haine, members of CC for G, appeared at the April 11 regular Selectboard meeting to share the group’s progress and ask the Board to sponsor them in applying for a planning grant from the Vermont Community Development Program.

CC for G grew from a number of meetings and conversations in the community, including the Guilford Community Church’s Vision Committee and church members’ work with Guilford Cares, the nonprofit health-support organization, Majonen told Board members.

A big boost came from the Vermont Council of Rural Development’s (VCRD) workshops with Guilford in 2014. The VCRD Community Visit team asked residents to identify the most pressing needs to make the town “a better and more dynamic place to live,” according to their Report and Action Plan (which can be viewed at guilfordvt.net).

During the VCRD process, residents identified three priorities for the town. One of them was, “support the development of the church as a community and early-education center.”

This inspired CC for G to develop the center. While there will be some cross-over with the church, it will be separate, because “it makes it more community-based rather than tying it to an organized religion,” Town Administrator Katie Buckley said.

According to Majonen, the building would house a number of programs and projects, serving members of the community practically from cradle to grave.

The proposed facility would provide infants through school-age children with consistent, high-quality care, Majonen said, and would create about 10 jobs.

“Guilford does not have a registered or licensed child care facility at all,” Majonen said, and the town has a “high need for infant care.”

Majonen said she spent 25 years in the child care field, and “I don’t think the need for quality child care is going to go away."

Other possible uses for the building, according to Majonen, are space for the community food pantry, offices for Guilford Cares and other nonprofits — including social-service organizations, outdoor recreation areas for children and adults, and a place to permanently store medical equipment.

“Right now,” the medical equipment “is in [Health Officer] Richard Davis’ barn,” Majonen said.

The proposed location for the community center is on a parcel of land the church recently purchased.

“We like the idea of being in the area” around the church, Majonen said, because its location just off Route 5 puts it in the path of many residents’ daily travels. Plus, as Majonen noted, many residents — church members or not — already use their building for meetings and events.

CC for G plans to sign a long-term land-lease, also known as a “ground lease,” with the church. The church will own the land, and CC for G will own the building.

Buckley said this arrangement isn’t uncommon, and other nonprofit groups have done this. It takes a lot of pressure off an organization to fund a building and the purchase of land.

CC for G seeks the planning grant to “help us flesh out our ideas” and create “a visual” for the project, Majonen said. It could give the group “some hard numbers” on the community center’s costs and income, and “plan for [its] sustainability,” Majonen added. The group’s goal is to submit the pre-application by the end of April.

Board member Dick Clark expressed his support for the project, calling it a “positive move” to provide services to residents “so they don’t have to go to Brattleboro."

When Gordon Little, newly elected to the Board, asked what the Selectboard’s role is in the process, Buckley told him “municipalities are the only entity allowed to apply for Vermont Community Development Program funding.”

Thus, the Board would have to agree to support CC for G’s application for the planning grant, which it unanimously voted to do at the end of the discussion.

“We’ll essentially be like a pass-through,” Board member Troy Revis said.

Buckley will warn public hearings for the project, and be the point person and administrator for the grant.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #354 (Wednesday, April 27, 2016). This story appeared on page D1.

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