JONESBORO – A big banner on the side of a barn seems to have struck a spark within Jonesboro – maybe even more than a committee’s dedicated work over the last year has.
Tired of trying to get residents engaged in planning for their own future as a community, a local group focusing on changes ahead for the town of 600 decided to put their message on the side of Paul Gay’s barn.
“Don’t Change Jonesboro,” the banner showed, with the word “Don’t” intentionally crossed out.
That got results: Seventy-one residents turned up Tuesday evening at the Jonesboro Elementary School to see what the meeting, also pushed as a “Have Your Say” forum, was all about.
Committee members were astounded at the response, particularly because so few had shown an interest for all of last year. The Jonesboro Community Renewal Project was formed last October, but few had paid attention beyond its steering committee.
On Wednesday, ideas and enthusiasm abounded as entire families worked alongside individuals to talk about how change is coming to the Washington County town that straddles U.S. Route 1.
Chris Spruce, a community planner with the Sunrise County Economic Council, has worked with the committee for 12 months. He was a co-facilitator of Wednesday’s meeting alongside Dianne Tilton, the council’s executive director.
“I’m sure the banner helped bring people in,” Spruce said. “It sure raised the right question, to change or not change Jonesboro.
“What this group has been saying all along is that change in the town is inevitable, but residents can manage that change if they want to.”
By all accounts, residents are suddenly into helping make Jonesboro a better place to live. Even now, its slow pace and friendly atmosphere are the best things going for the town, residents said.
They had been asked to identify the one thing that they best liked about living there now.
In 90 minutes the residents came up with ideas on how things could change for the town in a good way.
Tilton led them through one exercise in which she posted photos of five buildings in town, most of them in private hands. They were asked to think of ways the buildings could be put to use – assuming that one day the buildings would come into public use.
The buildings were the Jonesboro Grange; Paul Gay’s barn; the old Bridgham’s Market that was last used as a dairy bar; the old Looks General Store, vacant now aside from a renter upstairs; and the former Chandler River Lodge bed-and-breakfast that is now a family’s home.
“Ideas just flew,” said Pat Frappier, a committee member who is also one of the town’s selectmen.
The goal wasn’t to identify how the buildings could transform to, say, a museum or Internet cafe tomorrow. Rather it was to encourage creative thinking and start discussions on all the possible ways that Jonesboro can change for the good.
The committee leaders were delighted with the newfound interest.
The meeting offered refreshments, door prizes and songs with piano accompaniment by four young people, siblings Chris and Matthew Plaisted and Taylor and Cassidy Seeley.
Even the door prizes had a twist. To register, residents had to write down their skills, talents and hobbies that they might be willing to share with the committee’s renewed plans.
Also, the gift certificates that came from two Jonesboro businesses, the White House Restaurant and ZacRy’s store, were purchased, not donated.
“Everybody always asks businesses for donations,” Frappier said. “We decided not to do that. We paid for these, because we need to support our businesses Down East.”