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School-downtown partnerships are a win for everybody in Franklin

Concord Monitor | Elodie Reed

As efforts continue to build up downtown Franklin, a 15-year-old filmmaker, a high school engineering class and Colby-Sawyer College graphic designers and environmental scientists are pitching in to help.

Area high schools and colleges are partnering with the nonprofit PermaCityLife to work on the laundry list of projects to make the city more attractive for businesses, tourists and new residents.

In return for providing logos and “identity systems” for marketing, eco-park designs, ecological mapping and films – all for free – the students get something invaluable: work experience in a real, live community.

“You just can’t replicate that just in the classroom,” Jen White, CSC sustainability coordinator, said.

“It’s kind of like a win-win on both sides,” Jenisha Shrestha, the PermaCityLife community development coordinator, added.


On a sunny February morning after some heavy snowfall, White grabbed a shovel and started scooping snow away from the old Hair Doctors storefront in downtown Franklin.

Above the space is a new, vibrant sign, reading “Sustainable Learning Initiative at Franklin Falls.”

White has overseen the creation of a new, three-year bachelor’s degree program in community-based sustainability. A large component of the major is hands-on work with different initiatives in the Three Rivers City, facilitated by PermaCityLife.

This is the first year for the program. There are still some wrinkles to iron out, like getting a working heating system in the Franklin field studies office.

After shoveling out the entryway, White and Shrestha went inside, where cubby work spaces, a sitting area, and a conference room are set up.

“We had a couple meetings in there before it got really cold,” Shrestha said. Even without the office, however, she said about 90 CSC students were involved with the Sustainable Learning Initiative last semester.

That number is slightly reduced for the spring semester. Some are in the new degree program, though others are just working in Franklin as part of their other classes.

CSC junior Justin Rand and senior Zach Melisi are such students.

“We both precede the major,” Melisi said. The environmental science major managed to get involved, though, after his original senior year capstone project fell through.

White, his adviser, suggested he work with the Mill City Park initiative, a nonprofit planning a whitewater park in downtown Franklin, instead. Melisi is now in the midst of documenting invasive species along the Winnipesaukee River, and by the end of his project, he’ll make recommendations for site remediation.

“These plants have had so much free range in the area,” he said, adding that oriental bittersweet was the biggest culprit. “I’m so invested in this site now, and I know so much about it that I feel invested getting the treatment that it needs.”

Melisi’s classmate, Rand, has also contributed to the Mill City Park initiative. His graphic design class held a logo-design competition last semester, and Rand won.

Now, he’s volunteering with CATCH Housing to create a multi-dimensional identity system for the group’s new apartment project in Franklin. That includes a logo, signage and advertising materials.

“It’s a good resume-building thing,” Rand said, “but I’m more interested in it as a trial run for me.”

For both Melisi and Rand, there are real-life components in their projects that can’t be replicated in the classroom. Rand said it was a good lesson when his initial logo for Mill City Park was sent back to the drawing board not because his work wasn’t well-executed, but because his client didn’t like it.

“I’m working in a much more real setting,” Rand said. “I feel like I’m learning even more.”

For Melisi, it’s instructive to do a live case study that incorporates ecological identification, land mapping and consideration of historic mill processes that affect the river.

“It’s so different than reading about it in a book, when you can walk on the site and know lead and arsenic are leaching into the water,” he said.

Local high schools

Yet another project for Mill City Park is being conducted by a class at Tilton School.

Engineering and chemistry teacher Tyler McDougold said he read about Parichand’s idea for the whitewater play park in the Monitor last summer, and he saw the opportunity for his students to do some hands-on work using critical thinking.

“At our school we started something called the ‘Tilton Experience’ – we’re trying to change the way we educate students,” he said. “I was basically the guinea pig for this year to try it out.”

His environmental engineering class began their project, designing the proposed “eco-village” for Mill City Park, in the fall. They spent their first school quarter learning what “design thinking” is: defining problems, identifying criteria and constraints for addressing the problem, developing and analyzing solutions and then getting feedback.

In their second quarter, the class got to work. They spoke with Mark Hayes at Highland Mountain bike park in Northfield, for instance, and learned that he often has people sleeping overnight in his parking lot because there aren’t other nearby places to stay.

The class has also examined how sewer lines can be hooked up to the Mill City Park area. By the end of the year, McDougold expects to have the backbone for the eco-village project done.

“I think they’ll definitely have serious designs created, problems addressed,” he said. “The kids, they’re excited what they’re actually doing actually matters and that at their 10-year reunion or something, they’ll be able to go down the road and see something they designed.”

While the Tilton School students might have to wait years before seeing the payoff, 15-year-old Hank Miller does not. The Proctor Academy freshman did his first professional film shoot in February.

“Erikka (Adams), the librarian here at Proctor – she had met Jenisha before,” Miller explained. “She found out PermaCityLife needed a video. I found video a few years ago and I fell in love with it.”

Miller helped the nonprofit apply with an arts grant, filming a 2½ -minute video for their application. He interviewed Jo Brown at the Franklin Studio, and Joseph Kildune, the local car-parts sculptor, about how artwork has boosted both business and opportunity in Franklin.

“It’s really nice to get my name out there and make connections in the real world,” Miller said.

“I have friends who are in college and they don’t have a job and they’re not really sure what they’re going to do with their life.”

He, on the other hand, already has a business, called Hank Miller Productions, and definitely knows what he wants to do after school.

“I want to pursue this as long as I can,” he said..

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