2021-12-31-RETREATBARN

During a visit to the Retreat Farm in August, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., learned about plans to convert an old dairy barn into an event space. That project has received state Act 250 approval.

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BRATTLEBORO — A plan to convert a dairy barn into a “community gathering space” at Retreat Farm received state Act 250 approval last week.

An Act 250 permit was required because the renovation “constitutes a material change to a permitted development or subdivision,” states the approval.

In addition to 5,200 square feet of gathering space, the North Barn plan also calls for a 644-square-foot catering kitchen and a 750-square-foot terrace and performance stage next to the barn in Farmhouse Square.

“Amplified outdoor music is allowed until 10 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday and to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays,” states the permit. Music or other sounds won’t be allowed to exceed 75 decibels on the exterior of the buildings.

Also as part of the renovation, Retreat Farm is required by state law to install two electric vehicle charging stations.

Exterior lighting should be shielded and downcast.

In March, Retreat Farm learned it was the recipient of $3 million in congressionally directed funding, formerly known as earmarks, to renovate the dairy barn and turn the former Grafton Cheese factory into a “food enterprise center.”

Spring Brook Farm in Reading is hoping to use the facility to make cheese, bringing in milk from at least a dozen local dairy farms.

In early April, Retreat Farm announced it would be scaling back its operations “in an effort to remain a viable business.”

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Lindsay Fahey, who will be leaving her role in June as managing director of impact and community, told the Reformer the North Barn restoration will go ahead as planned.

“Retreat Farm is fully intending to move ahead with the North Barn conversion into a community meeting space,” she said. “As we seek to reduce our operating costs and complexity, we may partner with other leading community organizations to share the operating costs once the renovation is complete.”

During the pandemic, the farm expanded its operations rapidly to meet emerging community needs, including investing in its trail network, building artistic and interpretive resources, establishing the Community Food Project and making the grounds free for all to access.

“We’ve built a strong community of members and supporters, and learned a tremendous amount about how Retreat Farm can contribute to both long-term and immediate needs of the Brattleboro area,” said founder and board President Buzz Schmidt in a statement issued April 1. “Part of that learning is that, unfortunately, the full scope of activities we’ve operated the past couple of years isn’t financially sustainable to continue.”

Retreat Farm has until Oct. 15, 2025, to complete the restoration.

“The restored North Barn will substantially extend the opportunity for community gatherings year-round through lectures, conferences, fairs, galas, expositions, concerts and community-advancing events presented by Retreat Farm in collaboration with other community agencies,” states the application for an Act 250 permit submitted in May 2021. “A gathering place of this size and scale will bring people, organizations and businesses together to help build the connections needed for this region to thrive. It will shine a light on our proud historic architecture, talented craftspeople and artists, delicious local food and beverages, and provide a place that inspires us to learn, celebrate, engage, and work together to ensure a healthy, vibrant future.”

In addition to the $3 million from the federal government, Retreat Farm received $350,000 from the Northern Border Regional Commission and has raised another $1 million in private philanthropy toward the $6 million project.

It also received a commitment for a $2 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop workforce training and community educational outreach, as well as create the event space.

Bob Audette can be contacted at raudette@reformer.com.