Northlands change delayed again

VERGENNES — A series of delayed decisions has led to status quo at Northlands Job Corps: Alutiiq LLC, the center operator that the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the national job training program’s overseer, said would leave this past December will now remain there until at least September.
Northlands is also doing business as usual even though the DOL’s lease for the MacDonough Drive campus in Vergennes, an agreement that dates back to 1978, technically expired on June 1.
The DOL originally announced in March 2012 that it would end Alutiiq’s contract to handle up to 270 Job Corps students at Northlands, effective Dec. 31.
DOL officials never explained that termination, but it followed an assault that occurred on Northlands’ MacDonough Drive campus that hospitalized the victim, an attack that went unreported to city police for more than 24 hours; repeated complaints by Vergennes officials that center management was not cooperating with city police; and an Independent report documenting ongoing beatings in one of the Northlands dormitories of which some center personnel were aware.
City officials also credit Northlands students for community service, including, for example, Green Up Day participation and work done by the center’s well-regarded Urban Forestry program for local communities and nonprofit organizations. Northlands, which like the other roughly 120 such centers across the nation provides job training to disadvantaged youths, also employs up to 120.
In December, DOL spokesman Edmund Fitzgerald released a statement announcing a new operator would be chosen by March. In March, he released a statement that the contract award “will be made by May 31, 2013. The current contract extension for Alutiiq ends on May 31, 2013. Transition of the new contractor is expected to occur June 1st through June 30th.”
Late last week, Fitzgerald said the officials responsible for awarding the contract had given him a new statement to release:
“The Employment and Training Administration (ETA) is currently re-procuring a contract to operate the Northlands Job Corps Center. ETA is currently in the evaluation stage of the procurement. ETA anticipates that an award will be made by August 31, 2013. The current contract extension for Alutiiq ends on September 30, 2013. Transition of the new contractor is expected to occur September 1st through September 30th.”
The Independent asked Fitzgerald for an explanation of the repeated delays. No response from ETA arrived before the Independent’s Wednesday deadline.
As for the lease, Fitzgerald released this statement:
“The draft lease agreement for the Northlands Job Corps Center is currently being reviewed by the state of Vermont. The Labor Department is also awaiting an appraisal of the property, due by the end of next month. Until the new lease agreement is signed by both DOL and the state, the previous lease will be in effect on a month-to-month basis.”
Vermont Department of Buildings and General Services Director of Property Management Bill Laferriere did not return calls before Wednesday’s deadline seeking comment on the lease from the state’s point of view.
This spring, Laferriere said state and DOL officials were “hammering out the details” on a new 20-year lease for the roughly 60-acre Northlands campus that was once the home to the Weeks School for troubled juveniles.
The most recent 20-year lease — which replaced an initial 15-year lease signed in 1978 by DOL, state and Vergennes officials — expired June 30.
The original lease specifically called for Vergennes to be paid for hosting Northlands. City officials maintain the program’s presence creates a burden on city police, fire and public works services, and for 21 years Vergennes received regular payments that peaked at about $100,000.
But in 1999, DOL attorneys ruled that compensation was in effect illegal taxation of the federal government, and the checks stopped coming.
Vermont’s Congressional delegation then wrangled a one-time payment to Vergennes of $585,000 intended to cover five more years, but no more money has been forthcoming since. City officials are upset that what they called a 1978 promise has been broken, and that they were not invited to participate in the most recent round of talks.
Laferriere this spring said the state has had the city’s interests in mind during negotiations, but declined to discuss specifics.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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