VERGENNES — About 20 months ago the U.S. Department of Labor announced that a new contractor would take over operation of the Northlands Job Corps in Vergennes at the end of December 2012, in the wake of a student beating scandal at the federal job-training center. On Dec. 1 CHP International Inc. will take the reins at the MacDonough Drive campus from the current contractor, Alutiiq LLC.
Department of Labor spokesperson Ted Fitzgerald confirmed in a Nov. 8 email that CHP International, an Illinois firm with some ties already to Northlands, would soon be in charge.
CHP International has long had a contract to recruit students for Northlands; former Vergennes Mayor Sue Clark works for CHP in that capacity, according to City Manager Mel Hawley. Northlands serves up to 270 economically disadvantaged youths.
Fitzgerald’s statement read, “A new contract for the operation of the Northlands Job Corps Center has been awarded to CHP International Inc. CHP International will assume the operation of the center effective Dec. 1, 2013, following contract transition with the current operator, Alutiiq Professional Services, scheduled for the month of November 2013.”
The Department of Labor, or DOL, oversees the federal Job Corps program, but it contracts with private firms to operate the roughly 120 centers around the nation.
The DOL’s award of the contract for the Vergennes Job Corps facility followed several delays.
In December 2012, Fitzgerald released a statement announcing a new operator would be chosen by March 2013. Then in March, he released a statement that the contract award would be made by May 31.
In October, Fitzgerald said the officials responsible for awarding the contract had given him a new statement to release that said, “Transition of the new contractor is expected to occur September 1st through September 30th.”
DOL officials have never responded to requests for an explanation of the delays, nor did they answer the question why they terminated Alutiiq’s contract early.
However, that termination followed an assault on Northlands’ MacDonough Drive campus that hospitalized the victim, an attack that went unreported to city police for more than 24 hours; repeated complaints by Vergennes officials that center management was not cooperating with city police; and an Independent report documenting ongoing beatings in one of the Northlands dormitories of which some center personnel were aware.
On the other hand, city officials also credit Northlands students for community service, including, for example, Green Up Day participation, volunteering at the Vergennes Opera House, and work done by the center’s well-regarded Urban Forestry program for local communities and nonprofits. Northlands also contributes to the local economy, according to city officials, and employs up to 120 people when fully staffed.
According to Hawley, CHP officials told him former center director Tony Staynings will return to head Northlands again. Staynings, who was Northlands director from 2008 to 2011, did not return calls to the Independent by deadline.
The most recent list of Job Corps center contractors available online does not include CHP International. Information about the company may be found at chpinternational.com.
According to the website, CHP has worked with governments, “training providers,” and non-governmental organizations in the U.S. and abroad since 1978, and its “work has given us the opportunity to assist tens of thousands of individuals in developing the techniques, skills, knowledge and attitudes required to foster individual, organization and community development.” CHP has worked with the Peace Corps and in Latin America and Africa.
LEASE FOR THE CAMPUS
Fitzgerald and Vermont Department of Buildings and General Services director of property management Bill Laferriere also confirmed that the DOL and the state of Vermont are nearing a new lease for the state-owned Northlands campus.
Fitzgerald wrote the parties are “completing negotiations for the continued use of the facilities at the Northlands Job Corps Center. The superseding lease is currently in legal review. The existing lease is in month-to-month tenancy until the superseding lease is fully executed. It is anticipated the superseding lease will be executed on or before Dec. 31, 2013.
Laferriere earlier this week confirmed Fitzgerald’s statement was “accurate on the lease status.” The state has leased the 60-plus-acre campus, the former home of the Weeks School, to the DOL since 1978.
That year, DOL, state and Vergennes officials signed a 15-year lease that specifically called for Vergennes to be paid for hosting Northlands. City officials maintain the program’s presence creates a burden on city police, fire and public works departments.
The most recent 20-year lease, which replaced the initial 15-year lease, expired on June 30. It also compensated Vergennes for hosting Northlands — until 1999, when DOL attorneys ruled that compensation was in effect illegal taxation of the federal government, and the checks stopped coming.
Vermont’s Congressional delegation then wrangled a one-time payment to Vergennes of $585,000 intended to cover five more years, but no more money has been forthcoming since. City officials are upset that what they called a 1978 promise has been broken, and that they were not invited to participate in the most recent round of talks.
Laferriere this spring said the state had the city’s interests in mind during negotiations, but declined to discuss specifics.
Asked this week if city officials would be pleased with the new lease, he replied “no comment” in an email.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]