Friday April 12, 2013

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Senior Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- The Select Board agreed Monday to look into wireless Internet in the downtown, work with area colleges to open a downtown store and set up a multi-board meeting with school boards.

Members of the board as well as other local officials met with John Mullin of Mullin Associates Inc. last month to review an economic development report commissioned by the town and local organizations. Town officials and the Bennington County Regional Commission have been working with Mullin since last May to develop an updated plan.

On Monday, the Select Board chose a few goals they hope to accomplish in the next 90 days. Bennington Economic and Community Development Director Michael Harrington said while some businesses offer free wireless Internet in the downtown, coverage is sporadic.

He said the town has applied for a grant that would help bring blanket coverage. "Our vision would be to have the funding Š to cover the downtown," he said.

The board asked him to continue those efforts and bring additional information to the next meeting about where residents can currently access wireless Internet within the downtown district.

The Select Board also agreed to invite Southern Vermont College President Karen Gross to attend a future meeting to discuss opening a school store that would sell goods for area colleges.


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The store would also provide internships for local high school and college students.

Board member Jim Carroll said he has been talking with Gross about the idea and the school is interested in moving forward. "It would be a joint operation between (Community College of Vermont), Bennington college and SVC," he said.

The store could also serve as a gallery space for students to display artwork that could be viewed by the community and erase the "invisible wall" between Bennington College and the town.

"Historically, when Bennington College students display their work it’s done on campus," Carroll said. "Bringing it downtown, not only would it be an opportunity to sell it, but Benningtonians will have an opportunity to interact with Bennington students."

Select Board Chairman Joseph L. Krawczyk Jr. asked town staff to set up a meeting with local school boards to ensure they are all working toward the same goals. "That’s something that we can move on right now and I think we need to do that," he said.

Finally, the board will look to formalize an economic development task force that would have members appointed by the Select Board. That task force, which already exists without a formal structure, would be charged with the implementation of the town’s economic development goals.

Meanwhile, Justin Corcoran expressed concern that the report drafted by Mullin was to general and did not provide enough specifics.

"I’m just concerned about long-term generalizations as opposed to short-term specific stuff," Corcoran said. "When I see stuff that’s years down the road I’m thinking, ‘Wow, that’s going to get lost in translation and we’re going to be stuck with the status quo.’"

Town staff said there will be more specific actions identified as the Select Board prioritizes 40 goals identified in the report.

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com, or follow on Twitter: @nealgoswami