By Jennifer White
The ongoing collaboration between Colby-Sawyer College and the City of Franklin, New Hampshire continues to blossom and bear fruit. During the 2016 – 2017 school year, one hundred and fifty students participated in revitalization efforts spearheaded by a group of dedicated community members including Todd Workman, executive director of the nonprofit PermaCityLife. The students are participants in an innovative new curricular program at the college called the Sustainable Learning Initiative at Franklin Falls (SLI), which pairs the learning outcomes in majors across campus with the to-do lists of the revitalization project partners.
PermaCityLife is dedicated to highlighting the rich history and stunning architecture of the community while using innovative techniques that maximize the city’s
resilience and sustainability. Like many cities across the country, Franklin was once a booming mill town with thriving businesses and social activities; when those industries left, it failed to find what community branding expert Roger Brooks calls its “second act.” Franklin has significant social and economic challenges which are balanced by a host of strengths that include a walkable downtown at the confluence of three rivers, stunning architecture, recreational opportunities, and a passionate and determined citizenship.
SLI is an experiential learning opportunity for students to explore, design and develop sustainable solutions to real and evolving community needs. To complement the SLI, Colby-Sawyer launched an innovative three-year degree in sustainability studies in September 2016 that allows students to save approximately 20 percent on the cost of their college education and gain professional hands-on experience while still in school. In November, Colby-Sawyer and PermaCityLife also celebrated the grand opening of a shared field studies office in downtown Franklin.
The remodeled storefront serves as the hub for partnerships and projects within the downtown, functioning as the main office for PermaCityLife and home base for Colby-Sawyer classes and interns working with project partners. CATCH Neighborhood Housing (a housing non-profit based in Concord), which recently began work on quality affordable housing in the former Light and Power Company mill, will also use the space.
Last semester, graphic design and exercise and sport sciences students collaborated on a comprehensive branding strategy and business plan for Mill City Park’s biking and whitewater project, and ecology students analyzed aquatic life to assess water quality prior to the in-river modification and park restoration. The sustainable food systems class developed a community garden design and the social entrepreneurship club wrote a business plan for the Twin Rivers Interfaith Food Pantry. This spring students inventoried riparian invasive species, conducted sociological interviews related to quality of life in post-mill towns, offered web design input for Take Root Coworking, and evaluated the embodied energy and bioremediation options for the Amory and Stanley Mill buildings.
PermaCityLife, in association with the City of Franklin and other dedicated residential and commercial partners, has helped launch eight new businesses including a volunteer run coffee shop with New Hampshire made products, a co-working space, an outdoor outfitters store and a community-based counseling center. And, as Colby-Sawyer students lend their time to help these new entities succeed, they gain invaluable skills while also helping this remarkable community continue to grow and flourish. Learn more at: www.sli-franklinfalls.com and www.permacitylife.com.
Jennifer White is the Director of Sustainability and Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at Colby-Sawyer College, and Sustainable Learning Initiative Program Coordinator.