City council supports Graham Shelter grant

VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen last Tuesday agreed to apply for a $300,000 Community Development Block Grant on behalf of the John Graham Emergency Homeless Shelter.
Shelter officials hope to use those and other private grants and donations within the next year to complete a $500,000 upgrade of the building at the corner of Main Street and Monkton Road.
The property, a former boarding house with 10 bedrooms, including a manager’s apartment, has been used as a homeless shelter and transitional housing for families for the past 30 years. It provides help for its residents in finding counseling, jobs and permanent homes.
The project will renovate the living spaces and create for the first time a communal living room; install sprinklers; upgrade wiring, plumbing and insulation; install a new heating system and energy-efficiency equipment; repair the foundation, chimneys and roofing; and replace a porch.
Shelter director Elizabeth Ready told aldermen on Tuesday the changes — the first major work in the shelter’s 30 years — should benefit the mental health of the shelter’s residents and improve the look of a gateway to Vergennes.
“My goal in doing this is to have an environment in which people can take the next step in their lives,” Ready said. “I want it to look good for (Vergennes) residents and the community and be a place the residents can move forward from.”
The only significant comment aldermen had in what was technically a public hearing — one that no Vergennes residents attended — came from Alderwoman Ziggy Comeau.
Comeau said it was a shame that less expensive and easier-to-maintain vinyl siding could not be used instead of wood clapboards on the building, and wanted to point out that regulations made projects more expensive. She was glad that the council’s meeting was telecast so that constituents would know she thought these regulations are wasteful.
“I’d like to have it on TV so people understand it,” Comeau said.
Others pointed out that because it is a historic building in a historic district that guidelines had to be followed. City Manager Mel Hawley said block grants ultimately come from federal funds. 
“People’s hands are tied,” Hawley said. “When there’s federal funding involved, there’s strings attached, and this one’s a rope.”
In other business at their Aug. 17 meeting, aldermen:
• Heard from Alderwoman Christine Collette that the city’s farmers’ market is beginning to do well on its new day and time. Collette credited new market manager Rhonda Williams for her recruitment and promotion. “It’s been a good first year with her energy,” Collette said.
• Re-appointed the city’s Youth Fishing Derby Committee. “They do their jobs, and they do their jobs well,” said Alderman Lowell Bertrand.
• Heard from Mayor Mike Daniels that he hoped to find a way to open the city’s skate park more often and more regularly. Finding adult volunteers to supervise the park has been a problem this summer, according to Alderman David Austin, who has been overseeing the park for the council, but was not present on Tuesday.
• Heard from Daniels that 479 boats had come up Otter Creek to take advantage of free docking at the city’s docks, fewer than a year ago.
• Heard from Daniels that he would be making a special award to a local citizen at the city bandstand at 10:45 a.m. on Vergennes Day, which is this Saturday, Aug. 28. 
Andy Kirkaldy is at [email protected].

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