Colby-Sawyer College Opens Franklin Field Office Devoted to Community-Based Sustainability

Colby-Sawyer celebrated the grand opening of its field studies office for the Sustainable Learning Initiative (SLI) at Franklin Falls with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Nov. 3. President Susan D. Stuebner and members of the senior leadership team, staff and board of trustees were joined by representatives from PermaCityLife and the City of Franklin to mark the occasion.

SLI is an experiential learning opportunity for Colby-Sawyer students in the state’s smallest city, which is dedicated to using the principles of permaculture and sustainability to revitalize its downtown community. Through Colby-Sawyer’s relationship with the nonprofit PermaCityLife and community partners, students work with stakeholders to explore, design and develop sustainable solutions to real and evolving community needs. As a complement to the SLI, Colby-Sawyer has launched an innovative three-year degree in community-based sustainability which allows students to save approximately 20 percent on the cost of their college education and gain professional hands-on experience while still in school.

“Colby-Sawyer College is proud to partner with PermaCityLife and the City of Franklin. The collaboration allows our students to put their liberal arts foundational skills and their theoretical knowledge from their major into action toward solving real problems,” said Colby-Sawyer President Susan D. Stuebner. “The students’ work is not hypothetical – they have a chance contribute in meaningful ways to the revitalization of Franklin Falls. This kind of investment by our faculty and students is exciting and enhances what we offer in the classroom.”

The remodeled storefront at 357 Central Street will serve 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 who travel there to work with project partners. CATCH Neighborhood Housing, which recently began work on quality affordable housing in the former Franklin Power and Light mill, will also use the space. The 45 apartments will capitalize on the historic features of the building while maximizing energy efficiency, resource conservation and community interaction.

Todd Workman, executive director of PermaCityLife and the primary catalyst for the sustainable revitalization efforts, remarked, “Colby-Sawyer’s involvement lends credibility to the project and validates to residents and visitors alike that Franklin Falls is on the rise. Activating an empty storefront is always valuable, but having the college as a long-term collaborator shows that CSC is an innovator, brings youthful energy and creativity to our community, and gives others the confidence to come to town and start their own business.”

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.” It has some of the lowest incomes, property values and attainment of higher education, as well as some of the highest incidents of drug addiction, teen pregnancy and lead paint. These challenges 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.

Just in the last two years, more than 10 businesses have come to town, including Take Root Coworking, Outdoor New England and Franklin Studio, a volunteer-run coffee shop featuring New Hampshire-made products. Colby-Sawyer’s SLI creates real-life skill-building opportunities by pairing the to-do lists of these pioneering project partners with the learning outcomes in majors across disciplines. This semester, more than 90 Colby-Sawyer students are breathing new life into the downtown. Professor of Fine and Performing Arts Hilary Walrod’s Identity System Design class is collaborating with Professor of Exercise and Sport Sciences Stacey Watt’s class to create a comprehensive branding strategy and business plan for the emerging Franklin Falls Whitewater Park; Professor of Natural Sciences Nick Baer’s Aquatic Ecology students are conducting analyses of aquatic life to assess water quality prior to the in-river modification and restoration for the park.

The design for a new community garden in Franklin is underway in Professor of Environmental Studies Leon-C Malan’s Sustainable Food System class, while the college’s entrepreneurial business club, Enactus, is authoring a comprehensive business plan for the Twin Rivers Interfaith Food Pantry. Two students in Professor of Business Administration Jonathan McCosh’s Advertising and Social Media class are outlining a communications plan for PermaCityLife and SLI, and senior Capstone research projects include a riparian invasive species inventory for the park, social sustainability research for CATCH Housing and website graphic design for Take Root Coworking.

This is engaged learning for the common good.