November 26th, 2008
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury’s newly renovated Town Hall Theater (THT) on March 2 will take a brief holiday as an entertainment venue in order to return to its roots as the hub of municipal government.
Selectmen and THT officials have confirmed Middlebury’s annual town meeting will return to the theater building after a more than 50-year hiatus.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity,” Middlebury selectboard Chairman John Tenny said of town meeting’s impending relocation to the THT. “We are hoping for a very strong showing (from townspeople).”
The venerable building at 68 South Pleasant St. was erected in 1884 as Middlebury’s first town hall. The structure featured a 600-seat theater that hosted — along with Middlebury’s annual meeting — a variety of plays, concerts, dances, speeches and eventually, movies.
But the building’s run as town hall ended during the 1950s, when local leaders moved Middlebury’s municipal offices to their current location: The former Middlebury High School complex off College Street. Meanwhile, the former town hall was sold to private owners, who over the years used it as an eatery and for other commercial purposes.
It was around a decade ago that a group of drama enthusiasts and community members organized an effort to purchase the building from the Middlebury Knights of Columbus, and transform it into a performing arts center. Organizers were able to take their bow this past summer, when they opened the THT after having raised more than $5 million to acquire and completely renovate the landmark property.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
ADDISON COUNTY — For years, Lincoln resident Christian Schider traveled all the way to New York City for his Thanksgiving meal, sitting down for what could be the year’s most-talked-about meal not with family, but with strangers from all over the world.
Schider was in his late teens when he struck up this nontraditional tradition, making the trek to sit at a community table at the well-known vegan restaurant Angelica Kitchen. At the time, he said, he was a fairly militant vegan, someone who has chosen to eat no foods containing animal products.
After his animal-free Thanksgiving meal he’d travel to Long Island to visit with tryptophan-drugged family, but his sit-down supper with strangers was a longtime holiday highlight.
Schider gave up his vegan diet recently, during his wife’s pregnancy, and this year, the produce buyer at Bristol’s Mountain Greens Market and Deli plans to stay a bit closer to home for the holiday.
But what Schider’s memories of Thanksgivings in New York suggest is that “Turkey Day” for vegans and vegetarians is about everything but the turkey.
Take one of Schider’s co-workers at Mountain Greens, 24-year-old Courtney Lucia. Lucia is planning for her seventh vegetarian Thanksgiving. Leaning over the deli counter, where Lucia works, she said that her family doesn’t do any of the “fake stuff” — “tofurkeys,” for instance, or “smart bacon,” both vegetable-based products designed to mimic meat dishes.
That’s not to say there isn’t plenty at her family’s table she can happily gobble up.
“I always bring something that I’ve made that I know I can eat,” she said. It’s hard, sometimes, to turn down dishes that she knows her family has worked hard to make. But does politely declining a serving of white meat change the holiday for her?
By ANDY KIRKALDY
VERGENNES — Late last week Vergennes interim city manager Mel Hawley had one word removed from his title — interim.
Mayor Michael Daniels said Hawley, 55, who previously served from 1981 to 1998 as the city’s manager, was the unanimous pick as the city’s new manager by a hiring committee that included Vergennes aldermen, City Clerk Joan Devine, planning commission chairman Neil Curtis, and city resident and American Legion Post 14 official Henry Broughton.
Aldermen accepted the committee’s recommendation at a Nov. 18 executive session, and Daniels made the choice of Hawley official on Thursday, after Hawley’s employer since he left the city’s employ in 1998 — Vergennes outdoor equipment manufacturer Country Home Products — had been notified.
Daniels said there were several strong candidates for the post, including one other finalist besides Hawley. Hawley’s familiarity with the city’s operations and his track record made him stand out, the mayor said.
“With Mel’s knowledge of the city’s working operations as it is, he was the better fit of the two,” he said. “We feel that the transition ... will be smoother and a lot faster because he is so near to the pulse of our city.”
Daniels said the committee was also impressed with Hawley’s responses to a series of questions that were formulated not only by committee members, but also by the city’s department heads.
Specifically, the mayor said, committee members believed Hawley would give city employees latitude to perform their jobs, while still insisting they get their work done right.
“He’s going to hold department heads accountable ... but yet with a little bit of free rein,” Daniels said.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Directors of the Vermont State Craft Center at Frog Hollow (VSCC) are working aggressively to raise money to help the 37-year-old, nonprofit arts organization navigate some choppy financial waters heading into its key holiday sales period.
The VSCC currently hosts galleries and a wide range of arts education programs at its locations off Mill Street in Middlebury and Church Street in Burlington. But this year has been tough for Frog Hollow, which this summer closed its Manchester branch in reaction to sagging revenues and a slumping economy. And the economy has only gotten worse this fall.
“We are finding ourselves in the same situation that a lot of retail and sales-based businesses are finding themselves in,” said VCSS Executive Director Deidre Healey. “We’ve been hit as hard as any Main Street business and our focus right now is finishing the 2008 season as best as we possibly can.”
With that in mind, the VCSS is seeking to raise $50,000 in donations before the end of January. That effort could be greatly boosted by the potential offer of an anonymous, $100,000 matching grant the VCSS is now trying to secure.
Frog Hollow leaders met last week with local legislators and state and county economic development officials. Healey said she and her colleagues made a request for $75,000 in state aid. They were told it’s unlikely such a request could be honored, in part due to the fact that the state’s economic aid programs are geared toward for-profit businesses.
“We are looking for any support the state can give us,” Healey said. “But we have not be able to secure any of the financial support we have needed from the state.”
GLORIA KAMENCIK AND Nathan L’Heureux take a twirl on stage during a rehearsal Tuesday night of Mount Abraham Union High School’s production of “Beauty and the Beast.” The show will be performed Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m. with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday. For more photos from the show, see the print edition of the Independent.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
By JOHN FLOWERS
BRISTOL — Middlebury selectmen will spend the next five weeks trying to put together a fiscal year 2009-2010 municipal budget that features no local tax increase.
Selectmen are seeking to maintain the current municipal rate of 80.6 cents per $100 in property value in deference to Middlebury residents who are struggling through a tough economy. Several local businesses have laid off workers during the past year. Meanwhile, economists on Tuesday predicted a $30 million decline in general fund revenues for the current fiscal year and a state unemployment rate that could soon reach 7 percent.
“We come at this budget in a little bit of a different way, intentionally,” Middlebury selectboard Chairman John Tenny said. “I think it’s a good change in the process for what is clearly going to be a difficult year, if not two or three years. Because of the difficult financial situation, this leads us toward a budget presentation and preparation unlike previous years … where we’ve set the baseline as ‘maintaining the level of service.’ This is looking at holding the line financially, and a more arbitrary financial limit because of the economic stress that is perceived in the community.”
Middlebury Assistant Town Manager Joe Colangelo on Tuesday spelled out the impact a level municipal tax rate would have on next year’s budget.
First, he noted a projected 1.5-percent increase in Middlebury’s grand list would give the town roughly $6,760,000 in revenues, a sum that would fall approximately $259,496 short of the $7,020,147 needed to maintain the same services that local residents are currently receiving.
The lion’s share of the gap — almost $165,000 — is associated with increases in wages and benefit premiums for municipal employees, hikes that are guaranteed through negotiated contracts.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
ADDISON COUNTY — By the time fuel oil hit the record high price of $147 per barrel this summer, telephones were ringing off their hooks at local fuel vendors’ offices. Customers were clamoring for “pre-buy” contracts, looking for a way to lock into a price of $4 per gallon of heating fuel or more and pay for a winter’s worth of oil up front.
Now, though, fuel oil prices have dropped to under $60 per barrel this week and prices for heating fuel have fallen by 30 percent or more. With the price for No. 2 fuel oil at some local companies coming in this month at around $2.80 per gallon, those same customers are likely wishing they’d left their phones on the hooks.
But customers, it turns out, aren’t the only ones who locked in at high prices this year — their vendors did, too.
“We were kind of forced into it by the customers,” admitted Mike Bordeleau, the owner of Bridport-based Mike’s Fuels. In July, Bordeleau was on the fence about offering pre-buy contracts — reluctant, he said, to have his own customers lock into prices that were $1.50 or $2 per gallon higher than last year.
Skyrocketing prices, though, made some customers anxious to buy early in case prices climbed even higher over the course of the winter. What’s more, speculators on Wall Street — Matt Cota of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association (VFDA) named Goldman Sachs as an example — were calling for oil prices to hit $200 a barrel, which could result in heating oil priced at $6 or $7 per gallon.
“There was a panic across the Northeast,” Cota said.
So, when Bordeleau was able to offer a pre-buy contract at $3.99 a gallon, almost 20 percent of his customers — around 500 out of approximately 2,700 households — jumped at the offer.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — They came from all walks of life and from all corners of the county on this clear May day, to strike up a singular voice of compassion for a woman who was drawing her last breaths during the annual season of renewal.
They respectfully gathered around Cynthia Hodgson’s bed, gazed upon her lovingly, and eased into a rendition of the spiritual, “There’s A Light.”
Mrs. Hodgson couldn’t acknowledge those serenading her, and she didn’t have to. As the group watched and sang, her breathing slowed, then stopped completely.
“She just eased on,” said her son, Will Porter, who was among the family members present at her bedside. “It was almost like she relaxed right away.”
Family members are convinced Mrs. Hodgson’s final moments on Earth were made more peaceful by Wellspring, a group of Hospice Volunteer Services singers who offer to serenade those nearing the end of their lives.
For almost four years now, the group has been sharing song as a source of comfort for hospice patients struggling with the pain, fear and anxiety that can come with a terminal illness or advanced age.
Priscilla Baker is Wellspring’s coordinator. She was with the group when it began rehearsing in 2004 and gave its first “patient sing” in 2005.
She noted how Wellspring has grown from a rather casual collection of seven or eight people to an association of almost 30 avid singers devoted to the cause. Practices, conducted the first and third Tuesday of each month, draw upwards of 16 singers.
Since she serves as program director for Volunteer Hospice Services, Baker is able to offer Wellspring’s services to clients who might feel soothed by music.