April 2017 Year in Review

The Addison Central School District board in April briefly toyed with the notion of having Middlebury Union Middle School absorb the ACSD’s 6th-grade population. Some touted the move as a way of better integrating the International Baccalaureate program into ACSD schools. But the board ultimately balked at the idea, noting — among other things — that some of the ACSD’s seven elementary schools might not be able to survive the corresponding loss of students in a district already contending with declining enrollment.
Meanwhile, teachers’ unions and school directors in the Addison Northwest and Addison Northeast school districts declared impasses in their respective efforts to hammer out new labor contracts. The ACSD board and local teachers had declared impasse the month before. The sticking points: Wage increases and how much of the health insurance premiums teachers should have to absorb.
April also saw a re-boot of the Mount Abraham Union High School renovation committee, which began work on a new plan to refurbish the almost 50-year-old building. The committee recommended that five-town residents vote on a new renovation bond during the 2017-2018 academic year.
Also in Bristol, Mount Abe students and the local police department teamed up on an outreach program aimed at preventing sexting — the practice of texting naked photos.
The Middlebury selectboard unanimously approved a plan to demolish the deteriorating Main Street and Merchants Row rail bridges and replace them with temporary spans by early August. Officials announced both bridges would be closed for at least a week in July. Ultimately, plans call for the two spans to be replaced by a concrete tunnel, a $52 million project expected to last into 2020.
Natural gas began flowing to Middlebury’s industrial park in mid-April, and Vermont Gas was readying hundreds of other connections throughout the village. It was the culmination of the company’s $166-million Addison Natural Gas Project. The much-debated pipeline project will deliver natural gas to Middlebury, Vergennes and some of the more densely settled areas of several other Addison County communities (probably including Bristol) in the coming years.
Porter Medical Center officials turned their attention to future growth at the South Street hospital and nursing home campus. Affiliation with UVM Health Network brought promises of a new medical office building. Porter leaders hired a consultant to help prepare a facilities master plan to chart future, potential growth during the next five years and beyond.
Addison County sugarmakers heralded a decent maple syrup season in April, but some voiced concern about how climate change could affect future returns. Sugarmakers depend on cold nights and mild days to get maple trees to surrender their sap. A recent trend of rising temperatures and more aggressive storms has left some producers worried the sap flow could lessen in the coming years.
April brought some pleasant financial news to Middlebury. The town’s local option taxes on sales, rooms, meals and alcohol had yielded an accrued surplus (since 2008) of around $1 million, sparking debate on how the community should use that money. The local option money at this point can only be used to retire debt on the Cross Street Bridge and pay for its upkeep.
The Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center board launched a search for an interim director, in the wake of an unsuccessful effort to find a replacement for top administrator Lynn Coale, who would step down in June.
April is a month in which state lawmakers start working, in earnest, toward adjournment of the legislative session. Local legislators reported on plans to re-examine Act 250, the state’s land-use law, which is now 47 years old. They said efforts to institute publicly financed primary health care had stalled, a fate also suffered by a bill calling for legalizing possession of small amounts of recreational marijuana.
Middlebury College alum Cam MacKugler’s “Seedsheet” business received national attention — and a $500,000 infusion of capital — during an April 7 appearance on a reality TV show called “Shark Tank.” Seedsheet features a weed-blocking fabric sheet that is embedded with dissolvable pouches, similar to laundry detergent pods, that contain organic and non-GMO seeds with a buffer of soil. It’s a product that allows anyone, virtually anywhere, to grow their own food. The national exposure and financial assistance helped MacKugler ramp up Seedsheet production and sales from his Middlebury headquarters.
Middlebury Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7823 announced it would host the Middlebury Farmers’ Market at its 530 Exchange St. property. The market was looking to move from its location in the Marble Works in light of impending replacement of the Main Street and Merchants Row rail bridges.
Doug Nedde, new owner of Middlebury’s Battell Block, confirmed a series of renovations to what is downtown Middlebury’s tallest and largest residential/business hub. He launched a series of interior renovations to the 68,000-square-foot complex, which included an overhaul of the third-floor apartments.

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