Building a downtown welcome in Fitchburg

Bench by bench, MWCC students brighten Main Street

By Anna Burgess,

UPDATED:   08/05/2016 02:57:38 PM EDT

FITCHBURG -- Spring, summer, fall, winter: Thanks to Mount Wachusett Community College students, colorful Main Street seating is available year-round. 

On Thursday morning, seven students in the MWCC course First-Year Experience 101 were hard at work by the Theater Block on Main Street. They hammered and painted, putting together four season-themed benches along a stretch of Main Street they identified earlier in the summer as most in need of more seating to increase pedestrian traffic. 

The FYE 101 course always incorporates an element of service learning, said professor David Thibault-Munoz. 

"I started the semester by walking down Main Street and had the students take notes on what they observed," Thibault-Munoz said.

Their observations -- storefront vacancies, few pedestrians and very little seating on sidewalks -- became the inspiration for their service learning project. 

"We decided on the benches to get more people downtown," explained student Arren Walsh. "Right now, it's kind of barren." 

They wrote a letter to the city requesting permission for the project, and received help in the form of material donations from the Upward Bound Math Science program, the ReImagine North of Main initiative, the Sherwin-Williams Paint Store and the Maki Building Center. 

Local artists Coelynn McIninch and Adoria Kavuma-Winburn helped as well, painting season-themed murals on each of the benches.

The students chose the "four seasons" theme to "incorporate something bright into the area," Walsh said, and to complement the colors of the tile wall. 

Students David Cormier and Lauren Belanger, who have carpentry experience, helped the group organize and put together their materials over the past three weeks. 

"Everybody has been working together as a team," said Belanger, whose contractor fiancé helped the project by pre-cutting wood slats for the benches.

Though only one student, Cormier, is from Fitchburg, Thibault-Munoz said he thought all seven should become "stakeholders" in the city because their summer course was taught at Fitchburg State University. 

On Thursday, students said they did feel more familiar and connected with Fitchburg than at the beginning of the summer. 

It felt good to help the community, they said, and working outside in a physical, creative manner wasn't bad, either. 

As Cormier said, "I'd rather do this than sit in a classroom any day." 

Follow Anna Burgess on Twitter and Tout @AnnaBurgess18.

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