Feds won’t renew pact for Northlands operator

VERGENNES — The U.S. Department of Labor will not renew Alutiiq LLC’s contract to operate Northlands Job Corps, the federal job training center in Vergennes.
However, Ted Fitzgerald, the DOL’s Regional Director for Public Affairs for the area that includes New England and New York, said this week that Alutiiq’s contract will be extended through the end of 2012 to give the DOL time to find a new firm to run the MacDonough Drive center.
“The center will continue to be operated by Alutiiq until at least June 30. After June 30, Alutiiq’s contract will be extended until Dec. 31, 2012, to allow time for the Office of Contracts Management and the Office of Job Corps to conduct the procurement for a new contract,” Fitzgerald wrote in an email.
Alutiiq has operated Northlands, which employs about 120 people, since mid-2010, and its contract with the DOL was set to expire at the end of June, with an option for renewal. The DOL oversees the more than 120 Job Corps centers around the United States and in Puerto Rico, and contracts with private firms to operate them.
According to Fitzgerald’s email, “the government determined it was not in its best interest to exercise the option to extend the contract.”
Fitzgerald was asked in a follow-up email on Tuesday what criteria were used to make the decision, specifically whether the center’s academic performance or disciplinary issues were considered.
No clarity was offered by the response from Job Corps officials. Fitzgerald said that “Job Corps’ response” was that under its contract with center operators, “the government has the unilateral right to not exercise an option period if it determines that not exercising the option period is in the best interests of the government.”
Northlands management recently came under fire from Vergennes officials for failure to report a serious assault in a timely manner. Vergennes Police Chief George Merkel said he has been unhappy with delayed notification of that and other incidents, and Vergennes City Manager Mel Hawley said city officials planned to meet with Northlands officials on this Thursday again to discuss notification protocol.
Several sources also alleged to the Independentthat there have been regular beatings in one dormitory, and Merkel said two sources have also told him the same thing.
Three Northlands students called the Independentto deny those beatings occurred. All the sources who had earlier spoken to the Independent, however, reaffirmed their accounts.
Northlands and DOL officials have declined to comment on that situation.
Emails were also sent on Tuesday to the Northlands business and community liaison and to Alutiiq official Bob Sabochik seeking comment on the firm’s contract status. No response was forthcoming before Wednesday’s deadline for this issue of the Independent.
The DOL leases the Northlands campus from the state of Vermont. The property is the former home of the Weeks School for troubled youth.
According to Fitzgerald, “Job Corps continues to remain committed to provide training and education services to economically disadvantaged youth at the Northlands Job Corps Center.”
According to Hawley, the Job Corps’ lease with the state of Vermont expires in June 2013.
When Northlands opened in the city in 1979, state and federal officials promised in writing to pay Vergennes to host the center. The payment promised was an annual mount of money equal to about 10 percent of the city’s budget, exclusive of fee-based sewer spending. In the late 1990s, that payment hovered around $100,000.
But in 2000 the DOL ruled those payments were illegal taxes on the federal government. Vermont’s Congressional delegation wrangled $585,000 to cover five more years, but no more money has come since then despite the 1979 promise.
City officials have said they want to be heard during negotiations for a new lease if Northlands is to remain in Vergennes, and they will bring up the issues of finances and public safety.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent

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