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By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Union District-3 school board members are hoping the next two weeks will yield some good financial news that would allow them to keep the middle school’s living arts program from being cut from the proposed 2009-2010 spending plan.
The Middlebury Union Middle School (MUMS) living arts program and its teacher, along with a currently vacant paraprofessional post, are the chief casualties reflected in a proposed UD-3 spending plan of $15,548,526, a draft representing a 3.52-percent increase compared to the current spending plan.
“These are very frustrating times,” UD-3 board Chairman Tom Beyer told a packed crowd of teachers, parents and students at a Tuesday budget meeting that ran six hours.
“There is an enormous uncertainty for everyone,” he said, noting the tough economy. “What we are looking for now is how to share the burden.”
PRESSURE ON BUDGETS
Officials noted the proposed budget increase is actually a lot smaller than 3.52 percent when one realizes that it is artificially inflated by the effect of a state law (Act 130) that requires supervisory unions to more accurately reflect shared expenses between secondary and elementary schools. Currently, transportation expenses within the Addison Central Supervisory Union (ACSU) have been accounted for primarily in the budgets of the seven member elementary schools. The UD-3 budget has merely reflected the costs of busing the students from the elementary schools to MUMS and Middlebury Union High School. The 2009-2010 UD-3 spending plan is therefore being asked to assume a $280,000 increase in transportation budgeting away from the elementary schools. That $280,000 represents a full 1.9 percent of the proposed $15.5 million proposed UD-3 budget, or more than half of the proposed 3.53-percent increase.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College’s student/community activity spot at 51 Main St. may become a casualty of cost cutting moves the institution is having to consider in light of the sagging economy.
The college opened “51 Main At the Bridge” last spring as a downtown venue in which students and area residents could enjoy light food, drink and occasional live entertainment from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., Thursday through Saturday. It is located in one of Main Street’s largest and most attractive storefronts in the historic Battell Block, in a spot most recently occupied by the Eat Good Food restaurant.
By most accounts, 51 Main has been a success and a good draw for students seeking a change of scenery from the campus. The student-directed business was established through a gift earmarked for support of “student social life.”
But college officials are now reassessing the future of 51 Main — along with a host of other programs — in light of a plunging stock market that has taken its toll on the institution’s endowment and the ability of its supporters to give donations.
“We are going through a fairly comprehensive process of finding savings at the college,” said Middlebury College Acting Provost Tim Spears.
To that end, all sectors of college administration are working to trim their operating costs (travel, meals, etc.) by 5 percent. Spears added the college’s Budget Oversight Committee — of which he is a member — will be looking at broader cuts that will ultimately require the approval of President Ron Liebowitz.
The college has already instituted a hiring freeze, has limited the work of consultants and contractors, and will cut back on construction projects.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
LINCOLN — Kathleen Kolb has a foot in the past and an eye toward the future — but the Lincoln artist is looking for a few extra pairs of eyes when it comes to envisioning that future.
Kolb was recently named one of 20 finalists for the Art of Action: Shaping Vermont’s Future Through Art project, culled from an initial pool of more than 300 artists.
Of the finalists, 10 will be selected in January as the recipients of commissions that could range from $10,000 to $40,000 per artist. These artists will each produce a suite of work in their chosen medium to address the issues identified by Vermonters as essential to the state’s future, which will eventually be gathered together and exhibited throughout the state.
In creating her final proposal for the Art of Action judges, Kolb is soliciting feedback from county residents about what they cherish about Vermont as a state that we can all carry into the future.
Kolb is the kind of artist who believes, deeply, in art’s ability to make change — and that, in part, is why she’s attracted to the Art of Action project.
“I know that art can inspire people, and I know that it can comfort people, and we need both of those things,” she said. “We’re in a difficult patch. We’re in a time of transition and challenge and opportunity.”
If selected as a finalist, she said that her task will be to think about how to do just that — comfort and inspire. And while painting in a basement studio can be a solitary affair, Kolb is reaching out to her neighbors around the county to figure out just how to achieve that goal.
“I’m wondering what it is that people want and would find useful in that way,” she said.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
BRISTOL — Bristol Elementary School will say goodbye to its team of top administrators come June, when Co-principals Anne Driscoll and Jill Mackler retire following their respective 10- and four-year stints at the school.
Both women have left their mark on the school they’ve teamed up to lead, Driscoll with her passion for literacy and Mackler with her expertise in “responsive classroom” training, an approach to elementary school education that emphasizes the well-rounded social, emotional and academic growth of students.
Though Mackler and Driscoll will both be stepping down in June, the two administrators came to their decisions to leave the elementary school at separate times, and for very different reasons.
Driscoll said that she is ending her tenure at the elementary school in large part because of health problems. Driscoll, who has multiple sclerosis, was finding that her work was taking a toll on her health, and so last April she told the staff at the elementary school at that this year would be her last.
“It was important to me that I would be the best that I could be as a principal,” said Driscoll, “and if I felt that I couldn’t do that, it wasn’t fair to the staff or the school or the town.”
Driscoll said that leaving the school would make for a tough good-bye, come June. After being hired in 1972, Driscoll spent her entire teaching career in the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union, working as a teacher and literacy specialist at Monkton Central School and at Robinson Elementary School in Starksboro before coming to Bristol.
By ANDY KIRKALDY
VERGENNES — By way of a co-applicant, the Lake Champlain Byway Council, the city of Vergennes recently received a $376,300 grant to finish a key element that was originally the centerpiece of a project estimated at $203,000 in 2002 — a stairway down to Otter Creek from Main Street.
The federal National Scenic Byways grant was funneled to the city by the Vermont Agency of Transportation (AOT). It will fund, along with a $42,500 local match, a $425,000 concrete stairway, including a viewing platform and railings, that will run from the east end of the Main Street bridge down to the Otter Creek basin.
The stairway will start downward at about the midway point of a large brick building known as the Benton Mill. It will provide canoe portage as well as a link with existing trails in the basin that stretch to the city docks and have been created largely by the Youth Conservation Corps.
Eventually, another trail under construction — the so-called “Rail Trail” — will also link those paths and the docks with Kayhart Crossing, the rail station that will be moved there and the AOT commuter lot recently built there.
The improvements will not have a direct cost to city taxpayers. Aldermen in March approved the recommendation of former city manager Renny Perry to use a fund set aside for improving recreation in the basin area to provide the $42,500 local match for the project.
That fund was created in the 1990s. When Green Mountain Power applied for a new federal license to use Otter Creek to generate power in Vergennes, federal law required the firm to compensate the host community. Part of that compensation was to start a $166,000 fund to support recreation in the area, and new city manager Mel Hawley confirmed plenty remains in it to support the project.
By JOHN FLOWERS
SHOREHAM — Shoreham residents on Wednesday, Dec. 3, will cast ballots on a the first comprehensive rewrite of the community’s zoning regulations in two decades.
Shoreham Planning Commission member Glenn Symon said the new rules place the community in compliance with Chapter 117, the state law that governs Vermont’s planning and zoning enabling statutes. But the proposed rules also, according to Symon, give landowners more flexibility in developing property in the village area while promoting more clustering of homes and retention of agriculture land in the more rural sections of town.
“A lot of people have participated in the process,” Symon said of the work in revising the zoning regulations, which he noted has gone on for the better part of the last 10 years.
What the commission ended up with is a 70-page document that outlines priorities for community growth. Those priorities include “promoting the general health, safety and welfare of Shoreham’s residents”; “Encouraging Shoreham’s rural, agricultural character and quality of life”; “Respecting the property rights of individuals, within a framework that recognizes and balances the needs of the community at large“; “Managing change in such a way that the ability of the town to provide services to its residents will not be compromised”; and “Developing an environment for new job opportunities, such as agriculturally related businesses or cottage industries, which are compatible with the other goals of the plan.”
It’s a plan that divides the town into seven zoning districts: Agricultural, medium-density residential, lakeshore residential, village commercial, village residential, flood hazard area overlay, and conservation overlay.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Central Vermont Public Service Corp. is considering introducing a new 5.4-mile, 46kV power transmission line that would extend from substations in New Haven and Weybridge, a project designed to enhance electricity delivery and reliability for around 4,400 customers — including businesses in Middlebury’s industrial park.
CVPS spokesman Steve Costello stressed plans are very conceptual at this point. Ultimately, the state’s largest utility would need to apply for permission from the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) to proceed with the $4 million project, which would not be subject to local review.
“We are trying now to get public input before we seek a permit,” Costello said. “We are probably a year away from filing an application with the PSB.”
The 4,400 customers that would be affected by the project are currently served by a dead-end radial line that extends from the Vermont Electric Power Co. (VELCO) substation in Middlebury to the CVPS substation in Weybridge. Costello explained that since the line is a dead-end, it is more vulnerable to interruptions of service in the event of a downed tree or some other natural disaster that could take down poles or other infrastructure.
“(The line) is not looped,” Costello said. “There is nowhere else to feed it.”
With that in mind, CVPS officials are considering a new 46kV line that would run along an existing electricity distribution right of way from the New Haven VELCO substation off Route 17, across Town Hill Road and through fields and cleared land before crossing Route 7. After crossing Route 7, it would travel across country, paralleling Campground Road and Twitchell Hill Road before tying into the existing 46kV line feeding the CVPS Weybridge substation, which is on Quaker Village Road.
By ANDY KIRKALDY
FERRISBURGH — Dozens of Ferrisburgh residents and a Vergennes Union Middle School class crowded into town offices for a Nov. 19 planning commission hearing on a petitioned zoning change. The petition was sparked by a recent proposal for a combined McDonald’s Restaurant, gas station and convenience store on Route 7.
That proposal has generated more interest — and opposition — than any in recent Ferrisburgh memory, even more, said planning commission member Bob Beach, than a proposal for more than a hundred homes and shops on a parcel next to the school and town offices two summers ago.
With those strong feelings in mind, Beach said planners are likely to make some kind of recommendation to selectmen for a zoning change, he said, although the issues are complicated.
“It’s important to note that it’s the biggest turnout ... I’ve ever seen come forward on a planning commission issue,” Beach said.
The petition in question asked for a zoning change for “commercially zoned areas” along Route 7 “to allow for no more than one gas station, convenience store, and/or fast food restaurant within each of our three commercial zones.”
It offered as a rationale that the areas are “too small in road distances (one-half mile or less in each designated area) to allow for safe ingress and egress of more than one of these businesses in each zone,” and requested the change “to ensure the safety of all motorized vehicles and passengers” traveling along Route 7 in Ferrisburgh.
Town Clerk Chet Hawkins assessed the mood of the crowd, estimated at roughly 75, without himself taking a position.
“It was predominantly in support of the bylaw to not permit the high-volume use of Route 7,” Hawkins said.