Archive - May 2008 - Page
By MEGAN JAMES
CHENGDU, CHINA — Meg Young had just handed her passport and bankcard to a teller on the second floor of the China Construction Bank in Chengdu a week ago Monday when the building began to shake.
“I made eye contact with the teller and we both started running,” she wrote in an e-mail from China late last week.
Young, the teller and everyone else in the room dashed to a freestanding, stone spiral staircase, which swayed under their feet as they hurried to escape, pieces of the building dropping down around them.
“Once (we) got outside we ran toward the parking lot, where cars were rolling and bouncing as the earth continued to shake,” she wrote. “It shook for two minutes and 58 seconds.”
Young, who has been working in China with Ecologia, a Whiting-based sustainable development organization, since graduating from Middlebury College a year ago, was about 50 miles southeast of the earthquake’s epicenter in Sichuan Province.
With a magnitude of 7.9, the earthquake tore through the south-central region of China around 2:25 p.m. on Monday, May 12, killing more than 40,000 people and injuring many more.
Though the destruction in Chengdu was relatively mild, the mountainous region to the west, in which Ecologia has been working to establish micro-financing programs, was one of the hardest hit.
“The sad thing is that this hit in an area where people are still locked into poverty,” said Ecologia director Randy Kritkausky.
By CYRUS LEVESQUE
LINCOLN — Even in the middle of a refugee camp in Iran near the border with Iraq, Tom Verner of Lincoln almost felt at home. “We just felt so warmly welcomed by the Iranian people,” Verner said.
Verner and his wife, Janet Fredericks, last month visited a dozen refugee camps and settlements in Iran with a delegation from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. While most of the group brought supplies or medical care to refugees displaced from their homelands by years or even decades of war, Verner and Fredericks came to entertain refugees with magic tricks and sleight of hand in performances for children.
Verner and Fredericks founded the group Magicians Without Borders in 2001, and have given shows in refugee camps, orphanages, schools and hospitals around the world, from India to Kosovo to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
To some, the idea of entertaining refugees seems to miss the point that the audience is in need of basic necessities like clean water and a roof over their heads. Verner said that one doctor on the April trip couldn’t understand the goal of Magicians Without Borders.
“I have a feeling he was … only thinking of these folks as bodies,” Verner said. “They also need hope and laughter.”
For many in Verner’s and Fredericks’ audiences, the camp or settlement was the only home they had known. Verner said that in some of the camps they visited, almost all the refugees were from Iraq and in others most refugees were originally from Afghanistan. And while many of those refugees were displaced by the current conflicts, Verner said that many others hadn’t seen their homes since the 1980s, when they were driven from them by the Iran-Iraq War or the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury residents on Tuesday, May 20, will be asked to approve local option taxes of 1 percent on sales, rooms, meals and alcohol as a means of generating revenues for a new, in-town bridge that would span the Otter Creek at Cross Street.
Middlebury officials are banking on the local option taxes to finance $7 million of the $16 million bridge project, which would link Main Street with Court Street as a means of reducing gridlock in the downtown. Middlebury College has agreed to bankroll $9 million of the project, through annual donations of $600,000 during what will be a 30-year bonding period.
It was on Town Meeting Day that local residents authorized bonding for the project and supported a charter change that would enable Middlebury to consider local option taxes. Tuesday’s referendum will allow residents to decide whether they want to now follow through and implement local option taxes for the next 30 years.
“My clear concern right now is that we get a good turnout,” said Middlebury selectboard Chairman John Tenny.
He added that after many months of planning and debating, town officials are now looking for residents to become “bridge builders.”
Local option taxes will be key if there is to be any bridge building because selectmen don’t want to lean on Middlebury’s already-hefty property tax as a means of financing the new span, which could open to traffic as soon as 2010. Selectmen have reasoned that local option taxes would be a reasonable vehicle for financing, as they would be borne — in great part — by non-residents who would use the new span and already use other Middlebury roads and bridges.
“Local option taxes give us the ability to fund and build a bridge without local property taxes and involve a larger surrounding community to pay for a project that helps that larger community,” Tenny said.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — National slump in the housing market?
Don’t expect to get that story from Connor Homes, a Middlebury-based manufacturer of colonial reproduction “kit” homes that has seen its sales triple during the past year.
“We are building something different here,” said Michael Connor, founder and CEO of Connor Homes. “Our little company in Middlebury, Vermont, I think is making a statement about how people ought to think about building their houses across the country.”
Connor said that pre-building homes in a controlled setting offers a process that is often more efficient and cost-effective than building from scratch on the site, and that his process can end up costing a client 20-percent less than the same home built conventionally.
In early 2007, Connor Homes was pre-constructing two or three houses per month in a rented, 14,000-square-foot headquarters on Exchange Street, houses that were then assembled on building sites throughout the country.
A year later, the company is now firmly settled in the former home of Standard Register on Route 7 South, a 115,000-square-foot building in which Connor Homes expects to crank out seven homes during this month alone.
The company’s workforce numbered 23 in 2007. It has mushroomed to 64 workers today, with more hires anticipated during the coming months.
“We have a waitlist of talented people,” Connor Homes Chief Operating Officer Holly Kelton said of the many carpenters, architects and other building specialists that have submitted resumes.
By MEGAN JAMES
MIDDLEBURY — A group of Middlebury College students hoping to overhaul the college’s nearly 20-year-old sexual assault policy is finding the administration is also ready for change.
Junior Aki Ito has been working with students, faculty and administrators drawing up a proposal to update the school’s policy, pushing for more preventative approaches to sexual violence and a more extensive support system for students who have experienced it.
“When you look at the handbook, it talks about what sexual assault is at Middlebury and how you can decide to proceed with a judicial proceeding, but it doesn’t talk about what that specifically entails,” Ito said. “What we want is every single step mapped out. We want a document that says if you’re sexually assaulted, these are the things you want to do, and then list every single thing that’s going to happen.”
But Ito and her team want more than a chapter in the college handbook.
They are proposing everything from mandatory attendance to a freshman orientation show that looks at dating, sex and rape on college campuses, to implementing a system to anonymously report sexual assaults, to hiring a response team that would handle every aspect of a victim’s recovery, including counseling and gathering evidence, should that person choose to press charges.
They are modeling their proposal after programs and policies they’ve found at other colleges, particularly Bowdoin College and Lewis and Clark College.
Last year the college’s Department of Public Safety received two reports of forcible sex offenses and the year before it received four. But students say many more incidents go unreported. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, less than 5 percent of college student rapes are reported to authorities.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Leaders of the Vermont State Craft Center at Frog Hollow (VSCC) are working diligently on a plan to wipe red ink from the organization’s ledger and put it on a strong financial foundation for the future.
Deidre Healy, recently hired as Frog Hollow’s executive director, confirmed last week the 37-year-old, nonprofit arts organization is seeking to raise $200,000 within the next six months to shore up a budget deficit and help meet ongoing operating expenses. She added her board of directors later this year will announce a $1 million fund-raising campaign to invest in Frog Hollow’s staff, educational resources, facilities and other measures to ensure the operation’s future survival. The VSCC currently consists of galleries and a wide range of educational programs in Middlebury, Burlington and Manchester.
“Frog Hollow has had a challenging few years, and we are committed to restoring the organization,” said Healy, who attributed the VSCC’s current financial problems to a “perfect storm” of events — highlighted by a downturn in the economy that has seen revenues slump.
This revitalization effort will not come in time to save the VSCC’s Manchester gallery, however. The VSCC established that gallery two years ago at 4716 Main St., but it has thus far failed to pay for itself. The gallery will soon close.
“The decision was a fiscal one,” Healy explained. “Fiscally, it just wasn’t performing. So we will focus our efforts in Middlebury and Burlington.”
Healey stressed the VSCC’s scheduled programs in Manchester will continue through the summer. The organization is working with other institutions to host some offerings, and has not ruled out re-establishing itself in Manchester in the future.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — The fate of Middlebury Union High School’s student newspaper hangs in the balance as organizers wait to see if journalism class will be offered at MUHS next year.
And even if journalism class does makes the cut for the 2008-2009 course lineup at MUHS, leaders of The Tigers’ Print said they are apprehensive about putting out a newspaper they said is now carefully screened — posing the prospect of censorship — by school administrators before it is published.
“I think it’s kind of up in the air,” MUHS English teacher and journalism instructor Timothy O’Leary said of The Tigers’ Print and the school’s journalism program.
The Tigers’ Print was reinvigorated two years ago, after a hiatus of a few years, by three local parents who restarted the paper as a high school club activity. They formed an alliance with the Addison Independent, which published the paper pro bono for that first year within its regular Thursday publication roughly once a month.
The effort was successful enough that the high school administration incorporated The Tigers’ Print into a journalism class within the English department worthy of a full credit. The paper is written and assembled by about a dozen students in the class — mostly seniors — who usually spend one Sunday a month pulling it all together before the week of publication. It has continued to be published in the Independent this past school year on a monthly basis.