September 2, 2014

For Williston family, years of sweat equity brings bigger abode

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By Mal Boright
Correspondent

To Brian and Phyllis Donohue of 188 North Williston Road, a safer investment than the stock market is the homestead. All you need are some money for materials and a willingness to provide some serious sweat equity.

Also, it can be helpful if, like Brian, you helped your dad build the family home when you were a boy.

With some remodeling of the original small ranch home to go, the Donohues have completed an addition to the building that now measures some 2,700 square feet, tripling the size of the original dwelling. The work was done almost entirely by the family and without contractors.

For Brian Donohue, who is maintenance and remodeling supervisor for the Shelburne-based restaurant company Hospitality Well Done, the project has taken four years to complete.

“It was mostly nights and weekends,” he said. “I would get out of work and come home and work on this.”

He said that building the addition without disrupting the original living space made the project much more bearable for the family, which includes 6-year-old son Tyler.

Most of the heavy work was done in warmer weather.

“In the winter I would run wires and work on the plumbing,” said Brian Donohue. “That would keep me busy until it got warm again.”

He is no neophyte to the building trade, even though he says doing this one “on my own” made him very nervous. For several years, Donohue and his dad operated a construction business near Concord, N.H. and built several houses and other types of buildings.

“When I started with this I got a little scared,” Donohue recalled. “In my whole life I had my father around to count on.”

Dad did pitch in from time to time, but the main man was Brian Jr. and he is proud of that fact.

Phyllis Donohue took care of the interior design.

“She is really good with design,” Brian Donohue said. “We would put together a plan and then build.”

Uh-oh. Sounds a little like a homebuilder’s worst nightmare: the anxious owner-to-be who looks over the workers’ shoulders and wants to make all kinds of changes on the fly.

“No, that was not a problem for us,” said Brian Donohue with a laugh. “There were a few instances we would have to rip out and go back, but nothing serious.

Nature also took part in the interior decoration.

A maple tree beside the house that had been a victim of the late ‘90s ice storm provided the wood for handrails on the second floor and stars to the floor.

Lumber for the flooring in a dining area adjacent to a large and comfortable family room came from Brian Sr.

“He had these old boards around for 25 years,” said Brian Donohue. “We put them in and sanded them down and finished them.

The only work the Donohues contracted for was sheetrock installation, concrete work and the large stone fireplace which was installed by Robert Blood of Williston, shortly before he moved to Florida.

Looking back four years, Phyllis Donohue said it was fortunate that there were conversations with an appraiser that helped with the decision to enlarge the home.

“We thought about fixing up the small house and then selling it,” she said. “The appraiser said it might be a good idea to expand the house.”

Now they have a home three times the size of the original with just a little more remodeling to go.

Donohue can go back to the Vermont Senior League baseball fields on Sundays as a member of the Jericho Indians.

Why, you might ask, is Donohue, a former high school and Babe Ruth League star in New Hampshire, playing for Jericho and not his hometown team that competes in the same league?

The answer: Donohue’s father-in-law Ralph “Lefty” Guillette is a longtime member of the Indians.

“For a while as the work was going on I could only play home games,” said Brian. “Now I’m ready to go.”

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Consultant rolls out plan to reduce backups on I-89 ramp

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By Isaac Olson

A consultant contracted by the state has conjured up a remedy for traffic backups on the southbound exit to Interstate 89 in Williston.

Vehicles occasionally fill the ramp and spill out onto the traveled portion of I-89, creating a potentially serious traffic hazard. There is also growing congestion along Vermont Route 2A near the exit 12 interchange.

Last week, state transportation officials and the consultant, Williston-based Dubois & King Inc., revealed plans to deal with the problem. The plans include widening the southbound off-ramp and coordinating traffic signals to improve flow along Route 2A.

The estimated $500,000 project, if approved by the Vermont Agency of Transportation, could completed as soon as 2006, according to Evan Detrick, a manager with Dubois & King. Traffic volume is growing by about a 0.5 percent a year, and the plan will support that rate of growth until 2026.

The plan, presented during a Nov. 10 public meeting at Williston Town Hall attended by about 25 community members, must still clear some hurdles before being implemented. But Detrick said he is confident that the Agency of Transportation will approve the plan and complete the remaining planning, permitting and construction tasks. The firm was contracted to study the area and recommend a solution.

Williston Town Manager Richard McGuire said there is “a mixture of feelings” on the proposal. It would have been better, he said, if the problem was addressed earlier and the project completed sooner but, he said the planning process is moving rapidly by state standards.

Williston resident William Fellinger, who lives up the hill from exit 12, said in an interview that he can see the congestion from his front yard. He said building more roads will not solve the problem and will instead create more congestion. If roads are built, he said, the work should be done “very judiciously” with careful planning for the future.

Speaking last week’s meeting, Bob Chamberlain, a traffic consultant with subcontractor Resource System Group, described the two-lane off-ramp as inadequate to support the traffic flow during peak afternoon hours. He said widening the ramp and installing a second left-turn lane would drastically increase the ramp’s capacity. Orchestrating that with signal timing would prevent cars from being backed up onto I-89, he said.

Chamberlain said the new signal cycle could cause traffic along side streets to be backed up even more than they are now. Marshall Avenue, he said, could be bumper to bumper for more than 1,000 feet during peak congestion.

“You have to pick your poison,” Chamberlain said. “We’re not magicians. It’s clear that not everybody is a winner in this.”

McGuire said he is concerned about having traffic backed up even more on the side streets, particularly Marshall Avenue. But as the state makes the exit safer, McGuire said the town of Williston will try to improve the infrastructure around the busy retail area.

McGuire said town officials are considering ideas ranging from connecting Route 2A directly to Wal-Mart to changing the lane system coming out of Maple Tree Place. He said the town will continue to study potential traffic flow improvements over the next few years.

But McGuire noted that the safety issue on Interstate 89 outweighs increased wait time for motorists.

“The bottom line is we do have a serious safety concern that has to be addressed,” McGuire said. “And the sooner the better.”

The plans revealed last week to deal with the off-ramp congestion, however, are more a broad outline than precise blueprints, Detrick said. He said state transportation officials still have to determine if the design is financially and environmentally feasible. He said the review process could be completed as early as January. State officials will then attempt to find funding, finalize designs and obtain permits before widening the ramp.

Fellinger asserted that under the plan motorists traveling on Route 2A willl not see the predicted relief. With twice as many cars able to turn left off the ramp as before, he said, there isn’t enough space for them on Route 2A.

It’s simple math, he explained. For example, he said if Route 2A can only accommodate 100 cars an hour and the ramp releases 120, there will be 20 cars stuck in traffic.

Chamberlain said that the segment of the Circumferential Highway planned for Williston that will terminate at the Interstate will not greatly affect Route 2A. Fellinger maintains that with the Circ and overall growth, the area is going to become “saturated” with traffic. A better solution, he said, is to put more emphasis on car-pooling and public transportation to lessen the amount of cars on the road.

“Putting two people in a car would be useful,” he said. “One person per Hummer just doesn’t cut it.”

It would have been more efficient to plan for heavy traffic back when developers started constructing large retail stores, Fellinger said. He questioned why developers didn’t better prepare for traffic. Now, he said, there isn’t enough open land left to provide the adequate roads needed to handle the amount of vehicles.

Detrick said it is most important to get the cars off the interstate. He said the traffic flow “will greatly improve” with the proposal.

At last week’s meeting, Williston resident Wolfgang Mieder said that icy roads combined with low visibility create a situation in which a “tremendous” pileup could occur. He asked that the state install flashing lights on Interstate 89 to warn motorists that cars may be backed up at exit 12. He said that would provide a temporary fix until a more extensive solution is completed.

Andrew Bassette of Richmond suggested officials install a second Williston off-ramp to give shoppers, which make up the majority of motorists, a chance to exit sooner. Having an exit at South Brownell Road, for example, would lessen the amount of cars getting off at exit 12, he said.

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Circ study completes first step

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By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Each day, motorists fume while traffic backs up along Vermont Route 2A. Behind the impatient faces, some drivers are likely thinking: When are they going to fix this mess?

Motorists, along with a host of organizations and government officials, have over the past few months expressed their views on how to solve the growing congestion along the Route 2A corridor, which stretches from Interstate 89 in Williston to the Five Corners in Essex Junction. The comments are part of the court-mandated Environmental Impact Statement process that will consider alternatives to building the long-delayed Circumferential Highway, which was intended to reduce congestion on 2A and other area thoroughfares.

The first step of that process, called “scoping,” was recently completed. The state Agency of Transportation released a report last week detailing the comments gathered from hundreds of individuals and numerous organizations during interviews and public forums.

Those comments show most people think there is a traffic problem. But there appears to be no consensus about how to fix it.

Many people — particularly Williston residents — think the state should immediately get on with building the Circ. Others believe the Circ is only part of the solution, and suggest combining the project with other measures, such as expanded public transportation and park-and-ride facilities. Still others support an alternative plan that envisions a new limited access “ Circ Street” and/or a series of roundabouts along Route 2A.

The lack of consensus is neither surprising nor alarming, say federal and state transportation officials. They note that the first step in the process is designed to gather a wide variety of public opinion.

“The scoping document does not provide answers about what should be done, nor is it intended to,” said state Agency of Transportation spokesman Ian Grossman. He said the scoping study will instead be used to form a long list of potential alternatives.

As originally planned, the Circumferential Highway would have carved a 16-mile arc from Interstate 89 in Williston to Vermont Route 127 in Colchester. Road crews had started preliminary work last year on the segment linking Williston to the existing portion of the Circ in Essex. But then U.S. District Court Judge William Sessions, ruling on an appeal filed by environmental groups, halted the work. He ruled that the environmental impact of the project had not been sufficiently researched.

As it stands now, there are two proposals. The first is for the Circ, which was first proposed decades ago. The second is a two-part proposal put forward by environmental groups.

The Vermont Smart Growth Collaborative suggested constructing a “ Circ Street” that would run along a portion of the proposed route of the Circ but would not be a divided highway. The group also proposed replacing existing traffic lights at major intersections along Route 2A with roundabouts.

Much of the public comment during the EIS process so far has revolved around support or opposition to those proposals.

“The discussion has focused on these two proposals, probably because it is easier for the public to wrap their heads around,” said Grossman. But he emphasized that everything — including other yet-to-be proposed ideas or perhaps doing nothing at all — is still on the table.

The scoping process has included public meetings, interviews and written comments. Dozens of municipal officials, business representatives and members of various other organizations were interviewed. Roughly 175 people attended three public forums held in March. About 250 people submitted written comments through the EIS project’s Web site.

A summary of comments posted on the Web site notes that there was broad agreement that traffic was frequently congested on Routes 2A and Route 15, particularly at Taft Corners in Williston and the Five Corners in Essex. Most people felt that improvements were needed.

But no clear consensus emerged about what should be done about the problem. Some thought more public transportation would help solve congestion; others felt it would have a minimal effect on traffic. Some said improvements to existing roads — such as better-timed traffic lights — would reduce traffic; others said the only solution was to build a new road.

Still others mentioned environmental concerns. But again, there was disagreement. Some thought building the Circ would improve air quality by reducing the time motorists spend idling in traffic; others felt that building the Circ would affect wildlife habitat. Opinion was evenly divided on whether or not to build the Circ.

The wealth of comments will produce a lengthy list of possibilities, said Jim Purdy of The Louis Berger Group, the consulting company hired to conduct the EIS process.

“If you multiply all the permutations, you end up with quite a large number of possibilities,” Purdy said.

Officials are now compiling a long list of alternatives. After more public input, that list will be narrowed down this summer to a shorter list of perhaps a half-dozen options, Purdy said.

Next, a draft Environmental Impact Statement will produced and more public comment will be sought. Then the final EIS will be produced and a final option will be selected.

Construction of any road in Williston — whether it is the Circ or another project — is a long way off. Officials say they have a goal of finishing the EIS by summer 2006. After that, the “most optimistic” estimate has road construction starting in spring 2007, Grossman said.

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Board refuses to renew permit for temporary classrooms

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Existing permit mandates removal of structures in Sept.

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The Development Review Board last week declined to renew the permit for temporary classrooms at Allen Brook School, raising doubts about the future use of facilities that relieve crowding in Williston schools.

A school official made a written request earlier this month asking that the three-year permit, which was granted in 2002, be extended for three more years. The permit expires Sept. 27, said Williston zoning administrator D.K. Johnston.

Kevin McDermott, chairman of the Development Review Board, said he and other board members at their June 21 session briefly discussed the request and decided not to act on it because it would circumvent the established permitting process. The board instead wants a new site plan application.

“They are going to be treated like any other applicant,” McDermott said. “For the safety of the public, the kids and everyone concerned, I think this needs to be reviewed like we do with anyone else.”

The structures, which are doublewide trailers adapted to school use, house 72-80 students in four classrooms, according to Allen Brook Principal John Terko. They were installed to ease crowding amid rising enrollment in the district’s two schools.

McDermott said the central issue is that the board clearly stated three years ago that the permit would expire. One of the 21 conditions of the original permit required the removal of the temporary classrooms after three years.

“This approval for the temporary structures shall expire three years from the time of occupancy,” the permit states. “The temporary structures (except the bus loop) shall be removed and the area returned to its original state.”

Terko said Tuesday he had not been informed of the board’s decision and had not yet considered what would happen if a new permit is not granted.

“Whew boy. I don’t know how to answer that,” Terko said. “I guess I didn’t anticipate this. It’s something to think about.”
Bob Mason, chief operations manager for Chittenden South Supervisory Union, which helps administer Williston schools and other area districts, requested the permit extension. His written request stated that he had been previously told by a former Williston planning staff member that “the renewal would be a relatively simple matter and that I should identify the need for the renewal about this time to your office.”

“That was not the case,” Mason said on Tuesday. “So now we will provide what they need and get on with it.”

He said in hindsight it would have been better to start the application process earlier, but insisted he was not surprised by the board’s decision.

“The Development Review Board, like other zoning and planning boards, takes its work seriously,” Mason said. “They want to make sure all the ‘I’s are dotted and the ‘T’s are crossed.”

McDermott said the board generally agreed that the ironclad permit expiration, combined with changes made to the originally approved site plan, meant the school district needed to file a new application.

Terko said that “to the best of my knowledge” there had been just one change to the temporary classrooms: a single exterior light bulb upgraded to a higher-wattage model to better illuminate a walkway.

McDermott, however, suggested that the school district had deviated from the approved plans.

Since the temporary classrooms were added, the Williston School District has seen an unanticipated decline in enrollment growth. For many years, the district added an average of 37 students each year. But in 2003-04 school year, enrollment fell by two students. A tally this October showed enrollment down five students from the previous year.

The uncertain enrollment situation has led the School Board to delay plans to expand Allen Brook with a permanent addition and instead try to renew the temporary classrooms’ permit.

McDermott declined to say if he would vote against a new permit for the temporary classrooms knowing that it would mean students would be negatively affected. He did note that the Development Review Board is a quasi-judicial body that makes rulings — not political decisions — based on town ordinances.

Mason said he does not know what will be required to obtain a new permit, so he was not sure if there is enough time to get through the process before the existing approval expires.

“I am going to work my tail off to make sure things get done,” he said.

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Anthrax scare disrupts business

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By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

The fourth in a series of deliveries containing a suspicious white powder was discovered at a Williston business Tuesday, attracting a crowd of federal, state and local public safety officials.

Employees were evacuated from the Resolution Inc. distribution center at Williston’s E-Commerce Park after a worker opened a manila envelope containing the white powder at approximately 10 a.m. A letter inside the envelope identified the powder as anthrax.

The letter was addressed to the A&E television network, one of Resolution’s clients.

A field test later performed by officials from Federal Protective Services, a branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, ruled out the powder as either anthrax or ricin. A sample of the powder was delivered to the state health lab for testing to determine its identity.

Patricia Quarato, a U.S. Postal Service inspector, said the episode was the fourth involving Resolution in the past two weeks. Two envelopes arrived at the company’s call center in South Burlington one recent night, forcing an evacuation.

Another envelope with white powder was recently flagged at the Williston Post Office and never reached Resolution, according to Lt. Al Buck of the Vermont State Police. Postal officials have been inspecting Resolution’s mail since the call center incident. The envelope opened Tuesday had been delivered to Resolution several days ago, before postal officials started their inspections.

Each of the previous samples mailed to Resolution has proven to be flour, according to Bill Shubart, the company’s owner. Buck said the substance found Tuesday “was probably some kind of flour product.”

Shubart said A&E has been the target of each mailing. He did not know what the motive might be.

“It’s probably some wacko sitting in a dark room who’s got some grudge against them,” Shubart said.

Resolution is a media customer service and fulfillment company with clients like the New York Times and CBS. Shubart said Resolution periodically receives threats at its call center in South Burlington from someone upset at one of the company’s clients.

Resolution employees were evacuated shortly after the envelope and white powder were discovered Tuesday morning. Three workers who were in close proximity to the white substance were segregated from the rest of the workers until the field test on the powder was complete. Williston Fire Chief Ken Morton said each of the three workers refused transport to the hospital.

Other businesses that share the building with Resolution were also evacuated. Morton said it was determined the other businesses were safely partitioned from the Resolution facility and had separate heating and ventilation systems. The employees at those businesses were eventually allowed to return to work.

A plethora of public safety workers reported to the scene, including representatives from Williston Fire and Rescue departments, Williston Police, St. Michael’s Rescue, the FBI, U.S. Postal Service inspectors, the Vermont State Police, the Vermont Hazardous Materials Response Team and Federal Protective Services.

Most public safety workers spent large stretches of time facing a side door to the Resolution warehouse and waiting for inspections of the powder to occur. Some were noticeably sunburned by the time the envelope and letter were removed from the building in a large plastic bag around 3 p.m.

Officials treated the threat seriously, but they seemed confident from the beginning the powder was not a threat. The same was true of the approximately 50 Resolution employees who were evacuated.

Some lounged like picnickers on the grass across the parking lot from the Resolution building, while others pressed up against a different warehouse to catch the narrow strip of shade it offered. A smaller group enjoyed a spirited game of Whiffle Ball in front of a truck delivery bay, occasionally hitting balls to the feet of the television news cameramen stationed nearby.

Around 1 p.m., an American Red Cross van arrived with cold water and juice. Moments later, a pizza deliveryman brought lunch.

Shubart said the incidents have caused obvious problems for Resolution’s operation, but noted that employees have handled the disruptions and potential threat well.

“They’ve really been great the whole time,” Shubart said.

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Animal names picked for new CVU mascot

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By Rosalyn Graham
Correspondent

The long-running debate over Champlain Valley Union High School’s mascot may finally be settled by replacing a controversial historical symbol with the name of a fierce predator.

By next September, the mascot and CVU sports teams could sport shirts carrying one of three names: the Redhawks, the Red Wolves or the Bobcats. All athletic teams are currently called the Crusaders.

The new names were chosen from almost 150 suggestions made over the past month. A 14-person committee made up of administrators, teachers, students and community members solicited the suggestions and then picked the top three.

Connie Metz, director of CVU’s Nichols House, chaired the committee. She said the three names were the most popular among committee members. The names also passed an exhaustive examination to ensure they had “absolutely no negative connotations,” Metz said. “We Googled everything.”

Metz said the idea was to eliminate names that had controversial historical connections or contained hidden double entendres.

School Board members will consider which of the three names to use at their June 13 meeting. The goal is to choose a new name in time for the start of the new school year in September.

In December the board voted to find a new name after almost a year of debate over the appropriateness of the Crusaders name, which had designated CVU’s athletic teams for 40 years.

The debate began when students linked the name to a history of oppression by European armies that invaded the Holy Land in the Middle Ages. The discussion divided students, teachers and residents.

Critics of the change argued that the name no longer carries a negative historic connotation and noted that CVU teams had long been called the Crusaders without drawing complaints. Those supporting a change thought the existing name was demeaning and offensive to groups that had been oppressed during the Crusades.

When School Board members finally voted to change the name, they established a committee charged with gathering community input and generating a short list of new names. The board reserved the right to make the final selection based on recommendations from CVU administrators and the school’s Student Council.

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