December 2017 Year in Review

As December began, stewards of Middlebury’s Memorial Sports Center started a fund drive that could result in the completion of the 24-year-old community recreational facility’s second floor. Boosters of the sports center look to raise $350,000 for a heated viewing area, elevator access and public restrooms for the top floor of the facility.
Green Mountain Power and groSolar filed jointly to the Vermont Public Utility Commission for a Certificate of Public Good to allow the companies to install a 4.99-megawatt solar array on a 40-acre parcel that lies at the junction of Route 7 and Greenbush Road in Ferrisburgh. The array, called the GMP MicroGrid-Ferrisburgh Project, would be 800 feet west of the state highway at its closest point, be among the state’s largest, and could power the equivalent of about 1,300 homes.
Right-wing provocateur James O’Keefe visited Middlebury and spoke at the Courtyard by Marriott in early December. His appearance in town came the same week that O’Keefe and Project Veritas, the organization he founded, were under fire for trying to plant what they admit is fake news in a prominent national newspaper. After Middlebury students protested author Charles Murray’s appearance on campus in March, O’Keefe’s talk, titled “Middlebury’s Free Speech Problem,” was expected to prompt unrest. As Independent reporter Gaen Murphree summed up after O’Keefe’s appearance, “Nothing happened.”
Sen. Chris Bray, D-New Haven, suggested that Vermont adopt a per-parcel fee to push along the state’s effort to clean up Lake Champlain and Vermont’s other waterways. Despite a growing amount of talk in Montpelier, legislative action on funding for those efforts has been moving at a glacial pace. Bray said his proposed fee would yield?$18.8 million of the estimated $30 million?the state will need to?raise during each of?the next 20 years as its?share of a federally mandated, $2.6 billion cleanup.
Addison County firefighters gathered in Ferrisburgh on Dec. 3 to honoring Bob Jenkins, who had served the county as a firefighter in Vergennes, New Haven and Ferrisburgh for five decades. The 74-year-old, who was battling cancer, helped train generations of area firefighters. “He was like a father to the firefighters of the county,” Dean Gilmore, New Haven’s assistant fire chief, said of Jenkins. Sadly, Jenkins died four days later.
Town Hall Theater officials went public with a $2.5-million fund drive, which they are calling the Doug and Debby Anderson Endowment, that would permanently endow a new “artistic director” position as well as ongoing maintenance at Middlebury’s historic downtown hub for community arts and entertainment.
Addison Central School District administrators drafted a level-funded spending plan for the 2018-2019 academic year, which they presented to board members on Dec. 11. The budget for the district’s nine schools could translate into a reduction of 14 licensed teachers, 18 paraprofessionals, a principal and a central office worker. One hundred people, including teachers, packed the Middlebury Union High School band room and engaged in a passionate discussion, during which board members ultimately decided to pursue the cuts.
A handful of people were taken to hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries sustained in an explosion at the United Technology Corp. Aerospace plant in Vergennes. The explosion rocked the Panton Road plant that employs 775 people who make equipment for the aerospace and defense industry. Four workers were hospitalized; three went home that day and the four was home and recuperating as this report went to press.
Brad and Blanca Jenne, longtime owners of Middlebury Sweets, are closing in on a deal to buy the Greystone Motel on Route 7 in Middlebury and make it the new home of “Vermont’s largest candy store.” They plan not only to host the huge store there, but also operate a motel with candy-themed rooms.
Despite their involvement in the process, immigration advocates protested the Vermont Criminal Justice Council’s updated language in a state law designed to encourage fair policing. By updating the language, the VCJC was trying to bring current legislation into compliance with federal law. Not doing so would categorize the state as a “sanctuary state” and would, they feared, result in the loss of federal law enforcement grant funding.
After 14 years spent improving human services in Addison County, United Way of Addison County Executive Director Kate McGowan announced that she would step down as the organization’s leader. Instead, she’ll become the interim director of the Center for New Leadership, run out of Marlboro College Graduate School in Brattleboro. Nancy Luke, Unite Way’s manager of development and marketing, will slip into McGowan’s role at least until the 2017 fund drive wraps up at the end of next June.
As the year came to a close residents all around Addison County were being told they will have to make some important big-dollar budgeting decisions for their schools in the coming year. In light of the five-town voters rejection of a $35-million bond to update the Mount Abraham Union High School building last month, the school board decided to hold a vote on smaller bond issue on Town Meeting Day in March. They are waiting from more information from the architect, but board members in January will consider floating a $29.5 million price tag for the Mount Abe repairs.
Over in the Addison Northwest School District, school directors are also mulling over a bond that would fund school facilities updates. However, they are not looking at one school, but fixes for all four school buildings in the district — Addison Central, Ferrisburgh Central, and Vergennes Union Elementary and High schools. They will nail down a number in January, and it will probably be $7.6 million, but it is hoped to be floated without a tax hike.
In Addison Central School District, directors got late word that the Middlebury-area schools could get a little more state aid than expected and therefore would need to cut only $1.3 million in its upcoming budget, not $1.9 million as was thought earlier in the month. Teachers, administrators and parents looking at cuts were not relieved.
The Brandon-area school district also is trying to balance the books; Superintendent Jeanne Collins at year’s end was suggesting merging operations of the elementary schools in Leicester, Whiting and Sudbury. The latest plan would have the youngest kids go to one building, middle students to another, and the oldest grade schoolers attend classes at the third.
Finally, this month the Rokeby Museum welcomed a new museum director to replace the retiring Jane Williamson. Fortunately the Rokeby board didn’t have to look far, they hired Catherine Wood Brooks, a Vergennes resident. Brooks, who served as the Cultural Heritage Tourism Coordinator for the Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing, should be right at home at Rokeby, a Route 7 heritage site known not only for being a stop on the Underground Railroad, but also as the well-preserved farmstead of the Robinson family of Quaker abolitionists.
With that, we all were waiting for fireworks, music and conviviality on New Year’s Eve and the dawning of a fantastic 2018. Happy New Year, everybody!

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