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April 28th, 2008

School merger plans move forward

By MEGAN JAMES

LEICESTER/WHITING/SUDBURY — If voters in Leicester, Whiting and Sudbury approve, a new consolidated elementary school could be the first built in Vermont in the 21st Century.

A newly formed tri-town school committee met last Wednesday to lay the groundwork for the consolidation plans, including the construction of a new, centrally located school, tentatively called the Community School.

In all three towns enthusiasm for the project has mounted since Town Meeting Day, when Leicester expressed a renewed interest in joining a merger of Sudbury and Whiting schools proposed last year.  In November Whiting voters rejected the merger, 47-26, and Sudbury approved it, 53-39.

But the proposal Leicester school board member Hannah Sessions floated before Sudbury and Whiting residents at their respective town meetings in March differs from the original plan in one striking way: The three towns would construct a brand new school building in a central location, rather than splitting grades between existing buildings.

An added bonus, Sessions stressed, is that joint schools are exempt from Vermont’s moratorium on school construction funding, so 50 percent of construction costs would be covered by the state.

The committee has yet to determine an estimated cost of building the school, but it wouldn’t be much more than other area schools are paying just for renovations and improvements, Sessions said.

At Wednesday’s meeting the 20 committee members, most of whom do not serve on a school board, discussed other benefits of consolidating schools. With more than 100 students — Leicester currently has 57, Whiting, 36, and Sudbury, 31 — the biggest perk is that the Community School would have no multi-grade classrooms.

full story

April 24th

Trans-racial adoptive families find themselves on 'fault line'

By MEGAN JAMES

MIDDLEBURY — Sometimes when Sue Schmidt and her sons are shopping for groceries, a stranger will come up to them and ask if she can touch the boys’ hair. Schmidt’s sons are both adopted — one is African American, the other biracial — and the soft dreadlocks on the younger 6-year-old attract a lot of attention.

Schmidt’s answer is always the same — no — but she tries to use the interaction as an opportunity to bring up a topic often overlooked in Vermont, where according to the 2006 U.S. census, 96.7 percent of the population is white.

“We don’t talk about race in Vermont, as white people we have the privilege to not talk about race,” she said. “My children don’t have that privilege. They will never have it.”

In her own family Schmidt, who works as Middlebury’s Agency of Human Services Field Director, seizes every opportunity to discuss the issue with her sons, whether it’s in the grocery store or on the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“My youngest son, earlier this month, said, ‘What means assassination?’ So I explained it. You have to make sure he understands the world that he’s living in,” Schmidt said. “But there was also part of me that was really sad… because I don’t want him to be afraid.”

Schmidt is a panelist in an upcoming community discussion on race following a screening at Middlebury College of the Vermont film, “Living on the Fault Line: Where Race and Family Meet.”

The documentary, which explores the emotional costs of racial discrimination and white privilege as it plays out in the privacy of trans-racial Vermont families, starts at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 1, in Twilight Hall.

full story

County residents mobilize for Green Up Day

By CYRUS LEVESQUE

ADDISON COUNTY — As Green Up Day nears, students at Middlebury Union Middle School are keeping their eyes open for a visit from a local superhero. Captain Green Up, clad in a costume made from the green plastic bags distributed on Green Up Day, has led the charge to pick up litter and trash around the school for several years now, and this year probably will be no different.

“He always seems to be there when they need him,” said social studies teacher Peter Brakeley, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the superhero.

Brakeley, who helps organize Green Up Day activities himself at the school but mysteriously has never been photographed with Captain Green Up, has recently taken a leave of absence for medical reasons. However, he said that he will still be able to take part in Green Up Day activities this year. “I should be able to keep my involvement,” Brakeley said.

At MUMS, Brakeley helps mobilize about 300 middle school students to help clean up the area on the annual day when Vermonters help clean up roadsides and public areas.

Green Up Day began in 1970 to promote the stewardship of the state’s natural landscape, according to Green Up Vermont, the nonprofit organization that has coordinated efforts since 1979. Held on the first Saturday of May, over 40,000 bags of trash are collected annually with the help of more than 250 volunteer coordinators and over 15,000 participants.

This year Brakeley said middle school students will begin work on Friday, May 2, at around 2:15 p.m. The students are eager to help out, partly to get out of the classroom on a spring afternoon and partly just to help their community.

“I think it’s important to get students involved with community service,” Brakeley said. “There’s a lot we can do for our community, especially an energetic group of 10- to 14-year-olds.”

full story

Middlebury commissions space study

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY —Middlebury selectmen will hire a consultant to assess the current space woes besetting the local fire, public works and municipal offices, and determine whether some of those services could be accommodated on the former wastewater treatment plant property off Seymour Street.

The former wastewater treatment plant, now relegated to a pump station, sits on 12.5 acres of town-owned land. It currently hosts the Middlebury Police Department and a small cluster of buildings — including a garage — that are no longer used by the sewer department and are now falling into disrepair.

Town officials want to determine whether any of those former treatment plant buildings can be salvaged for storage of municipal equipment, and whether it would make sense to consider some kind of new structure there to alleviate the space crunch some town departments are now experiencing.

The consultant will also look at the potential of other town-owned land, and perhaps private property, that could meet municipal space needs, according to Middlebury Town Manager Bill Finger.

Middlebury has $35,000 set aside in its capital budget to pay for the study, Finger noted.

“We want to take into account the space needs of the town and look at the potential to accommodate those needs on property already owned by the town, then look elsewhere,” Finger said.

Middlebury’s fire department needs are already well documented. While there is decent meeting space in the department’s headquarters at 5 Seymour Street, the building is having an increasingly tough time housing the force’s vehicles. Fire Chief Rick Cole explained the northern section of the building was erected during the 1930s, while the southern portion was added during the 1970s. Planners back then could not have envisioned the size of today’s firefighting vehicles.

full story

April 18th

New Garza lead prompts search of Otter Creek but nothing turns up

Addison County Independent: Breaking News

By MEGAN JAMES

MIDDLEBURY — Just past midnight last Friday morning the Middlebury Police Department and two Vermont State Police troopers floodlit a portion of the Otter Creek behind the baseball diamond at Middlebury Union High School and scanned the water for signs of missing Middlebury College student Nicholas Garza.

They were called to the site after a search and rescue agency from Maine, which had been taking photographs of the river in an aerial assessment on Thursday, identified a suspicious object in its photos late Thursday night.

But after two hours probing the dark water — and at the end of another search of the area led by the Colchester Technical Rescue Squad from 6:30 a.m. until sunset on Friday — authorities were no closer to solving the mystery of the 19-year-old’s disappearance.

It was about a week ago that the Maine agency, Down East Emergency Medical Institute (DEEMI), contacted Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley offering to help. DEEMI volunteers spent Thursday flying at about 500 feet over the Otter Creek and a portion of Lake Champlain, snapping hundreds of photographs along the way.

“The cameras, by virtue of the lighting conditions, can pick up objects as low as 15 feet below the surface of the water,” Hanley explained on Friday afternoon.

At the end of the day DEEMI flew back to Maine where an analyst went through the pictures for suspicious objects.

“In one of their early images they found an object in the water in this area,” Hanley said, referring to a section of the river behind the high school that until now has not been searched. “They didn’t know what it was. Clearly it wasn’t a rock or a tree; it was just a foreign object.”

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New Garza lead prompts search of Otter Creek but nothing turns up

By MEGAN JAMES

MIDDLEBURY — Just past midnight last Friday morning the Middlebury Police Department and two Vermont State Police troopers floodlit a portion of the Otter Creek behind the baseball diamond at Middlebury Union High School and scanned the water for signs of missing Middlebury College student Nicholas Garza.

They were called to the site after a search and rescue agency from Maine, which had been taking photographs of the river in an aerial assessment on Thursday, identified a suspicious object in its photos late Thursday night.

But after two hours probing the dark water — and at the end of another search of the area led by the Colchester Technical Rescue Squad from 6:30 a.m. until sunset on Friday — authorities were no closer to solving the mystery of the 19-year-old’s disappearance.

It was about a week ago that the Maine agency, Down East Emergency Medical Institute (DEEMI), contacted Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley offering to help. DEEMI volunteers spent Thursday flying at about 500 feet over the Otter Creek and a portion of Lake Champlain, snapping hundreds of photographs along the way.

“The cameras, by virtue of the lighting conditions, can pick up objects as low as 15 feet below the surface of the water,” Hanley explained on Friday afternoon.

At the end of the day DEEMI flew back to Maine where an analyst went through the pictures for suspicious objects.

“In one of their early images they found an object in the water in this area,” Hanley said, referring to a section of the river behind the high school that until now has not been searched. “They didn’t know what it was. Clearly it wasn’t a rock or a tree; it was just a foreign object.”

full story

April 17th

Retailer crafts outlet for her creativity

By MEGAN JAMES

MIDDLEBURY — Usually when Nancie Dunn attends the National Stationery Show in New York City she goes as a buyer for her Middlebury country gift store, Sweet Cecily. This year she’ll be on the other side of an exhibit booth, selling her handmade greeting cards.

Dunn started making her own cards about three years ago when her store was low on Easter cards. She took up marker and paintbrush and whipped out a small series of colorful cards to fill the racks. The first batch sold so well, she followed up with another.

“It just took off,” she said. “And they’ve gotten better and better as I’ve done more and more.”

A graduate of the Philadelphia College of Art, where she majored in children’s illustration, Dunn has always felt the pull to create her own art. Frog Hollow Craft Center was just opening when she moved to Middlebury in 1972, and she got a studio downstairs where she worked as a graphic designer.

She created the craft center’s frog logo and worked with its artists and craftspeople to design their business cards, stationery and letterhead, shifting her own illustration onto the backburner for a while. Since opening Sweet Cecily in 1987, the Main Street store has been her priority.

Until three years ago, that is, when she found the perfect creative outlet in her cards. 

“It combines my real love of words with my real love of illustration,” she said.

More importantly for Dunn, the simplicity of card-making seems to quiet her perfectionist side.

“I think that when you are a maker of anything … sometimes you hold yourself to a standard that doesn’t allow you to move forward,” she said. “I realized that I didn’t have to be Michelangelo to do greeting cards.”

full story

Lawmakers ready to cut state budget

By JOHN FLOWERS

MONTPELIER — State lawmakers on Wednesday began reviewing a menu of $46.3 million in potential spending cuts and revenue adjustments to compensate for an estimated $24.5 million shortfall in Vermont’s fiscal year 2009 general fund budget.

The potential spending/revenue adjustments were developed by the Joint Fiscal Office and representatives of the House, Senate and Douglas administration. Released at around 11 a.m. on Wednesday, the proposed adjustments seek to remedy a major revenue shortfall predicted on Tuesday by state economists.

Since lawmakers and Gov. James Douglas have vowed to not raise any broad-based taxes this year, the Legislature will have to find economies within the $1.2 billion spending plan passed earlier this month by the House.

Red ink is also looming in the state’s transportation and education funds, which pushes the total potential fiscal year 2009 revenue shortfall to around $30 million.

“People are working cooperatively to do the dirty job of looking where to cut,” said Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Weybridge, who serves on the Senate Finance Committee and is Senate majority whip. “I don’t think there will be anything held sacred, except for the education fund.”

The menu of potential cuts unveiled on Wednesday included:

• $5.6 million from the executive branch, including hiring freezes, possible job cuts and a 25 percent reduction in the travel budget.

• $20.5 million from human services, including elimination of state-only prescription programs under Medicare Part D; closing the Northwest State Correctional Center in St. Albans and sending those inmates out of state; and limiting inflationary increases to 1.25 percent for nursing homes, mental health care agencies and developmental services agencies.

full story

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