MANCHESTER - Following a series of community forums earlier this year which identified four areas that would enhance the town and region, leaders of the initiative - known as Manchester 2020 - offered an update to the town's selectboard an the public Tuesday night.

Brian Keefe, the chairman of the project, said four committees were developed out of conversations and forums. Representatives from the committees - bike, business incubation, Riverwalk and higher education - gave reports on their progress.

The higher education committee, led by Jen Hyatt, the academic dean of Burr and Burton Academy, shared the results of a survey they had conducted designed to gather information about what townspeople wanted.

At left, John Conte, chairman of the business incubator task force, answers a question during Tuesday night’s select board meeting. At right is Jen
At left, John Conte, chairman of the business incubator task force, answers a question during Tuesday night's select board meeting. At right is Jen Hyatt, the chairwoman of the higher Education task force, (Andrew McKeever photo)

"A lot of people who came to the Higher Ed committee envisioned that Manchester should have a satellite campus or we should bring a college to Manchester," she said. "We spent a lot of time spinning our wheels. What does the town really want? What does the town really need and what is financially sustainable."

A survey was sent out and 156 responses were returned, a number that pleased Hyatt.

"The vast majority of the people who responded were middle aged, which is pretty representative of the town in general," she said. "And what we also realized was that people were saying, this population did not really want credit-bearing courses, they really wanted courses that were just for their own knowing and learning."

In the survey, the top three course options were vocational, arts and foreign languages. Most survey respondents wanted courses offered in the evenings and during the winter, just for enrichment purposes.

Hyatt said the committee then took this data and looked around town to see what resources and classes were already available.

"We realized there is a really vibrant community of organizations and individuals who offer courses here in the Manchester area," she said. "What we really need is not something new, but to bring these organizations together and to really advertise and perhaps market or brand Manchester as a place you can come to learn or a place you can live and learn and not just shop."

Keefe gave a report on the bike committee for chairwoman Ellen Ogden. He said the committee really wants to promote Manchester as a tourist biking destination.

"This committee's goals are to help promote a safe environment for bikers, attract more bike groups to Manchester and build more off road trails to encourage an active lifestyle for kids," he said.

So far, the committee has overseen the creation of a bike map and bike racks are being installed. Also, a bike fix-it station at the Chamber of Commerce was donated by Joe Miles, the owner of rkMiles.

"This is a place where if you are riding any time of day or night you can go fix your bike, this is very important for bikers," Keefe said.

The river walk committee report was presented by Trisha Hayes for Chairman Bill Laberge.

The Manchester Riverwalk Association recently qualified as a tax exempt, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, Hayes said. The committee also just found out about a grant it received.

"The most exciting news, it just happened a short while ago, is that they received notice that they received a national parks grant, which will help them going forward and will help them with their organization" she said.

The committee is working with Landworks in Middlebury for the design of the Riverwalk.

John Conte, the chairman of the business incubation committee, delivered their report.

"We were set to determine what the possibilities of a business incubator or co-working space in Manchester would be," he said. "This would be an opportunity for both the youth to start a business or whoever wants to start a business."

The incubator committee also has a survey currently circulating in the community. Conti said they have had around 25 responses, mostly coming from individuals in technology or design industry.

Now, instead of just focusing on setting up some kind of space for business development, the committee is looking at different resources to utilize and develop in the area. 

"One of the things we are working on right now, trying to all come together...[and] try to put different groups together to see what we can do as one," he said. In other business at the meeting, a conference room was dedicated to long-time town employee Betty Tobin. Selectboard Chairman Ivan Beattie was appointed as town tree warden, replacing former planning director Lee Krohn. Lawrence Grant was appointed as fire warden, and Philip Bourn was appointed as deputy fire warden.