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Sustainability and the Arts at Sage Street Mill

The Mill in North Bennington, Vermont is bringing solar and arts to the area with the power of the sun. (Courtesy images)

George Harvey

The Sage Street Mill (the Mill) is a historic industrial site in North Bennington, Vermont. It is not something that a lot of people notice. Houses were built around it, and they are much more in the everyday view of most people.

Several industries have operated at the Mill, but they seemed destined, sooner or later, to fall on hard times. One produced buttons, but it is long gone. Most recently, the Mill was used to make ball valves, but the company that was doing that was so far from prosperous that it went ten years without paying its taxes. In the end, taxes were not the only problem, and it went out of business. And with that, the Mill was empty.

In 1993, the Mill went up for Sheriff’s auction. Buildings ranged from needing some tender loving care, at best, to irretrievably run down. There was a very small environmental mess that needed cleaning up, involving spilled oil. But there was one real mess that needed to be put under control immediately. It was the financial mess of all the back taxes.

There is a large flock of chimney swifts that nest in this large, disused chimney, as their summer home.

In 1993, Patricia Pedreira bought the Mill at auction, assuming its outstanding financial burdens in the process. Over the first ten years, she had to learn a lot, and she had to put in a lot of effort to get the buildings that were worth the effort into stable condition. In addition, of course, she had to keep paying not only the taxes and other expenses, but the back taxes that she had assumed, though she had not incurred them.

Patricia is a woman with a remarkable background, which is matched by an equally remarkable vision. She is the daughter of an Irish-American mother and a Brazilian father, and she embraces both heritages. It may be a result of this that she is able to see possibilities that others miss.

Sometime early on, in her work at the Mill, she found that nature seemed to add an unusual support to her dream. It came, oddly enough, in the form of migratory birds that come each year to nest at the Mill. They are a large flock of chimney swifts that nest in a large, disused chimney. The chimney is no longer connected to any building that would be heated, so it is theirs alone, and it is big enough for the whole flock. The swifts’ winter home is in South America, so Patricia feels a tie to them that is almost familial.

Of course, the buildings that are in use at the Mill have required attention for weatherization, efficiency, and cleaner energy. This is an ongoing process that is somewhat complicated by the fact that the buildings have very large and old windows. Other issues include energy, and Patricia has been working out plans for solar power with Power Guru’s, Karen Jernigan. The rooftop solar system will start at 32 kilowatts, though there is a probability that more will be coming, along with alternative solar applications.

The issue of greatest interest, however, is one that has to do with education and spreading the word about this new, forward-looking sustainability hub. While the Mill is offering workspaces and living quarters, and improving its own sustainable programming, it is also spreading the word in novel ways that are designed to draw engagement for sustainability from the wider community.

This is an issue that both Patricia and Karen commented on as an example of the goals established by Power Guru’s founder, Bhima Nitta. Bhima’s vision and true passion was to see that people learned about the importance of energy efficiency, and then solar energy.

The courtyard at the Sage Street Mill in North Bennington, Vermont.

The Mill regularly has events supporting sustainability and the arts. Currently, there is a “Pop-up” year-round alternative market every Friday from 4:00 to 7:00 PM. In development and curation-mode, is a multi-media art exhibit, called “Re-envision Renewables,” which will open on October 27, featuring artists who are combining sustainability with nature in harmony.

The Mill has a website, where anyone can learn more about this exciting sustainability hub. There are a number of rental spaces available for living and working. The Sage Street Mill’s website is www.sagestreetmill.com.

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