MARLBORO—The downstairs at the Marlboro Meeting House is currently a work-in-progress.
In a small room off the main hall, space has been cleared for a future public library. In the large multipurpose room, pieces of donated furniture — a comfortable couch, a few café tables and chairs, bookshelves — are stationed at various points across the floor.
Stacked against the walls are scores of colorful paintings by Betsy MacArthur, waiting to be sold or displayed. Many have already found homes.
The family of MacArthur, who died Feb. 9, is donating the proceeds from the sale of her art to support the creation of the Marlboro Community Center.
After the Meeting House Nursery School closed last spring, some townspeople saw an opportunity: the potential for the school’s former classroom to blossom into a community center.
“For years it has been the dream of many of us to have a physical location where townspeople could gather for activities of various kinds such as lectures, movies, yoga, [Senior Solutions’] Strong Living, a small library and café, and anything else our community needs, can dream of and is appropriate to the space,” the organizers wrote in a news release.
A place to gather
Since the store and gas station Sweetie’s closed in 2011, Marlboro has been without a place for residents to meet. Rose Watson, one of the MCC’s board of directors, pointed out that the only time townspeople regularly get together is Saturdays at the post office.
The post office happens to be next to the Meeting House, and Watson said she plans to encourage the Marlboroites who congregate there all day to make the trip across the short span of parking lot and instead hang out in the Community Center after they pick up their mail.
The year before Sweetie’s was shuttered, Marlboro received a visit from the Vermont Council for Rural Development. In the process of residents selecting their top three goals for the town, one that emerged was the need for a community center, even at a time when the store was still open.
“It’s very difficult in a town where you live so far apart, to stay connected,” said Watson.
The group that wanted to develop the community center explored the possibility of buying the store, which by that point had closed, and Watson said the group’s members “did serious fundraising with the Marlboro Alliance,” a non-profit, all-volunteer, community-focused charitable organization.
When the Sweetie’s sale fell through in 2014, the funds they raised for the community center “just sat there,” said Watson.
Library joins in effort
Earlier this year, when Meeting House Nursery School officials announced they were closing, Marlboro Alliance board members met with the Meeting House Church Trustees to discuss the possibility of transforming the downstairs into a community space.
The board of the Marlboro Library, which also needs a home, joined in the negotiations.
Earlier this year, the MCC became one of what the Marlboro Alliance bylaws describe as a “component organization” of the nonprofit. Its organizers created a board of directors and came up with a mission statement: “Fostering community strength and personal growth in a vibrant, inclusive and sustainable community center.”
“We have a lot of gratitude to the Marlboro Alliance for providing initial funding,” said Watson.
On Aug. 1, the MCC board signed a year-long lease for the Meeting House, which includes the room for the public library, the main room, and the kitchen.
Since then, MCC and Library board members began working on the space. They’ve done some renovations like installing a new toilet, upgrading lights and electrical outlets, and putting in a phone and high-speed internet.
Still on the list: building cabinets, building a ramp for accessibility, sorting and cataloguing books, and fundraising for items ranging from books to furniture to computer equipment.
“We are also working on things like bylaws, fee schedules, and other nitty-gritty details,” the organization reported in its news release.
The board is at the final stages of collecting applications for a part-time coordinator, who will likely begin in October.
The coordinator will work with the Meeting House Church trustees, the MCC board, the Alliance board, the Library board, and the public, including people who want to rent the space for events.
Once they hire a coordinator, board members will have more time “for crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s, like sales tax, insurance, and stuff like that,” Watson said.
In addition to the MacArthur art sale, the board will have other fundraisers. The library is having its own benefit concert, with pianist Jonathan Biss, on Sunday, Sept. 16 at 4 p.m. at the Brattleboro Music Center.
Engaging the public
MCC board members have been making the rounds at town events, asking people what they want from their community center. Watson said some ideas include a café, knitting and sewing circles, more senior luncheons, pizza nights, book discussions, original plays about local residents, monthly blood-pressure checks, an ongoing jigsaw puzzle, board-game nights, music for kids, old-movie nights, Christmas carol sing-alongs, and cookie swaps.
“Some people on the board are concerned about making space for teenagers. They want to have special events for them, and younger school kids,” said Watson, who added, “We want to provide something for them that’s not downtown Brattleboro.”
Older residents, Watson said, “want contra dances. They used to have them here in the Meeting House, and they remember.”
“We want to make it welcoming to everybody,” she said, and that includes year-round and summer residents.
“We have some amazing people on the Board. Lauren Poster, our president, has done a lot, and she has experience with non-profit boards,” Watson said. “Andra Horton has been writing grant proposals, getting help with the furniture and accessible [infrastructure], and Amy Tudor wrote our great press release.”
Board meetings are open to the public, said Watson. She invited interested parties to “jump in! We’ll certainly have things for you to do.”
Whether or not residents can attend board meetings, Watson said she and her colleagues are “interested in having people participate who have ideas and can execute them, like lead a class or an event. There’s room for more, even if it duplicates something like a yoga or art class. There are different styles,” she noted.
The community center will have an open house in the next few months, and board members will solicit further ideas at that event.
“It is our goal to create a space ready for your dreams,” the organization declared in the news release.