A SHEEP WELCOMES two pigeons to its stomping grounds in Weybridge last week.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
December 31, 2007
By ANDY KIRKALDY
VERGENNES — The impending retirement of two Vergennes Union Elementary School teachers has given the school’s board a range of budget options as decision time looms in January.
When board members meet next month, their final proposal could call for a spending hike in the 2008-09 school year of as little as 0.7 percent or as much as 4.1 percent, depending on whether they decide to replace both, one or neither of the retiring teachers.
Officials said no final spending plan will call for new programs or personnel, although increases in energy costs and the price of health insurance are putting pressure on the bottom line, as are contracted raises that average about 4 percent for the school’s teachers and aides.
Principal Sandy Bassett said he and the school’s board members have been careful spenders during his eight-year tenure, during which VUES budgets have earned regular backing.
“I think we always have been (careful),” Bassett said. “I think that’s why our budgets pass. The public knows we’re very responsible.”
The current year’s budget calls for spending roughly $3.4 million. The smallest increase being considered would boost spending by 0.7 percent to $3.422 million. That assumes neither teacher — one of those retiring teaches first grade, the other, fifth grade — is replaced,
If one teacher is replaced, spending would go to about $3.48 million, an increase of about 2.1 percent. If both are replaced spending would rise to about $3.54 million, an increase of about 4.1 percent.
December 31, 2007
By MEGAN JAMES
BRANDON — It was about 10 degrees inside the Brandon Town Hall one morning last week, but that didn’t stop Dennis Marden from putting in half a day’s work on the set he’s been building there for the Brandon Town Players’ upcoming production of “My Fair Lady.”
The players will perform the play this winter at Otter Valley Union High School, not on the town hall stage — besides heat, the building also lacks a fire suppression or sprinkler system, making it a safety hazard to the public. But the open space in the main level is perfect for a large-scale set-building project, and Marden, like many Brandon residents, is sick of seeing the old building sitting there, empty.
To that end, his organization, Friends of the Brandon Town Hall, is ratcheting up its efforts to restore the building. By this summer, the Friends hope to raise $72,000 for a fire suppression system, which would allow the building to open to the public six months out of the year.
And they’re making progress. Earlier this month the Vermont Arts Council awarded the organization a $20,000 cultural facilities grant; earlier this season the National Bank of Middlebury pledged a challenge grant of $7,500; and the First Brandon Bank also made a challenge grant of $7,500 over the next three years. Businesses and individuals in the Brandon area have also been generous, donating about $5,000 over the last few weeks.
Since the incorporation of the Friends in 1998, the group has raised $386,000, hired architect Jay White from Robert Williams and Associates in Pittsfield and completed a number of mostly external renovations, including the installation of marble front steps donated by the Omya quarry; exterior painting; brick masonry re-pointing; installation of a handicapped lift; and updates to the electrical system.
December 31, 2007
By CYRUS LEVESQUE
NEW HAVEN — The town of New Haven is thinking about simplifying the review process for new development proposals. A Jan. 8 meeting will let town residents talk about creating a development review board (DRB), which would take over all the responsibilities of New Haven’s Zoning Board of Adjustment as well as some of the Planning Commission.
“It more or less combines all the development review issues in one body,” said planning commission chairman Al Karnatz. “It streamlines some of the process.”
Currently, the ZBA handles most parts of an application for any significant new use or change in use of property in New Haven, including appeals of the zoning administrator’s decisions, applications for variances, and conditional use permits. However, approval of the planning commission is required for a number of uses of property. The planning commission’s main job is the town plan and zoning bylaws, but in addition to those responsibilities, it also gives subdivision approval and reviews site plans for commercial and industrial developments.
A DRB would replace the ZBA, and would also take over the planning commission’s approval and review functions. “Applicants who (now) need both planning commission approval, like for a subdivision, and zoning board approval, like for a septic tank, would only need to go before one board,” said John Evers, chairman of the ZBA.
According to Evers, the ZBA originally had almost all the review and approval responsibility, but as new cases arose functions closer to the planning commission’s job were shifted to them. “Over time, what happened is that there is more and more overlap.”
DOROTHY ORVIS PLAYS a game of toy-car shuffleboard with second- and fourth-grade students from St. Mary’s School during a recent visit to Project Independence in Middlebury. The children are, from left, MaKayla Foster, Libby Marini, Sebastian Huber and Wyatt Norris. Watching in the back are fourth-grade teacher Megan Baker and parent Joe Cotroneo.
Photo by Terry Norris
December 27, 2007
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College officials hope to reopen the former Eat Good Food space on Main Street by this coming February, using it for a “chocolate bar,” student night spot, small-scale retail venture and as a spot for town-gown activities.
Tim Spears, dean of students for the college, confirmed the news last week. It was back in August that the institution signed a short-term lease on the 2,700-square-foot space, seeing it as a good spot in which to open a venture that could boost student activity in downtown Middlebury while not competing with current businesses. The college has spent the past four months soliciting campus and public feedback on how to use the former restaurant space, along with sorting how the enterprise will be configured and managed.
Spears said that most of the outstanding issues have now been resolved.
“We’re trying to find a happy medium,” Spears said of the varied uses planned for the prominent Main Street spot. “I think this is definitely an experiment worth taking.”
College officials are currently getting the space ready for:
• A “chocolate bar.” As its name implies, the bar would serve a wide variety of chocolates — both international and local. Spears anticipates the bar will also sell tea, coffee, biscuits and hot chocolate. He believes the chocolate bar could fill at least some of the void left by Calvi’s, an old-fashioned ice cream shop that was a Main Street fixture for decades.
Spears conceded there will be some overlap in products offered by the chocolate shop and Carol’s Hungry Mind Café, also located in the Battell Block.
“We hope that it is not going to step on their toes too much,” Spears said, adding the college will reach out to involve Carol’s in programming at the space.
December 27, 2007
By CYRUS LEVESQUE
BRISTOL — The Mount Abraham Union School Board is considering a first draft of a 2008-2009 budget plan that proposes a 7.03 percent increase in spending to $12,999,836, but officials say the actual impact on taxes would be much smaller.
Some of the proposed spending increase can be attributed to the fact that Addison Northeast Supervisory Union changed how it bills the cost of busing. In an “apples to apples” comparison, the increase is a little less than 4 percent, according to district business manager Greg Burdick.
Students in Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton, New Haven and Starksboro ride the same buses whether in high school or the elementary schools of each town, and until now the costs of busing have appeared in the spending plans of the respective elementary schools. However, a new law requires school districts to distinguish between spending on elementary school and secondary school.
“Act 130’s basic thrust is to distinguish between K-6 education and 7-12 education,” Burdick said. So the transportation budget for the high school more than tripled, from $148,071 in the 2007-2008 budget to $499,114 in this draft of the 2008-09 spending plan. But nearly all of that increase had appeared in the elementary schools’ budgets in the past, and Burdick said that the transportation expenses for those schools will show corresponding decreases.
At a Dec. 18 meeting, school board members said they had given the supervisory union a goal of creating a budget with an increase of 3 percent or less at a previous meeting, so they asked Burdick to cut roughly another 1 percent, about $130,000, from the draft of the budget by the board’s next meeting, on Jan. 8, 2008.
December 27, 2007
By ANDY KIRKALDY
VERGENNES — Sometimes the perfect opportunity does come along — just ask new Vergennes Opera House Executive Director Jackson Evans, who was hired in September by the Friends of the Vergennes Opera House, the organization that operates the city hall theater.
Evans, a 29-year-old Northfield native who started full-time in November, has a background that makes him virtually an ideal fit for the job: His résumé includes a fine arts degree in photography and film from Ithaca College in New York and a master’s in historic preservation from the University of Vermont.
And Evans and his wife, Katja, bought a home in Vergennes within walking distance of the opera house just this past spring, and he now can visit his seven-week-old twins, a son and daughter, during his lunch hour.
The couple had been living in Burlington and was seeking a smaller town with a greater sense of community before settling on Vergennes. Evans and a partner were operating a historic preservation consulting firm out of Montpelier, but Evans said when the position at the opera house opened this fall — former director Donna Lord left to pursue another opportunity — it was too good to pass up.
“When my wife and I moved to Vergennes we were drawn to the strong sense of community here anyway, and to be able to be part of that in the work environment was a big draw,” Evans said.
Evans already knew about the Vergennes Opera House and its role in the 1990s revival of downtown Vergennes from his studies at UVM. The Little City is considered a big hit in downtown revitalization, with the opera house getting plenty of credit, he said.