July 23, 2019

Woman to run marathon for a good cause

Social worker’s sweat will help fight blood cancer

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

The furthest Williston resident Michelle Pierce had run before August was eight miles.

Then she signed up to do her first marathon in January to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

As a past relay participant in the Vermont City Marathon, Pierce had seen runners wearing t-shirts supporting the organization which works to find cures for blood cancers — leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and myeloma.

“I just have always thought to myself that if I ever run a marathon I’m gonna do it for this cause,” said Pierce, 35, in a recent interview. “Because I could never run a marathon just for me. I had to have a mission and a reason to do one.”

Pierce lives off of River Cove Road with her husband of six years and their two toddlers. The Pierces moved to Williston five years ago because they “liked the sense of community here,” said Michelle Pierce, a Rutland native.

A colleague of Pierce’s lost her husband to lymphoma about seven years ago. Pierce also has worked with “a lot more than a handful” of people with blood cancers in her job as a social worker on the hospice and palliative care team with the Visiting Nurse Association of Chittenden and Grand Isle Counties.

“Sometimes the treatments are harder on people than the actual disease because there can be a lot of fatigue involved, nausea, and I think the fear of the unknown,” she explained of patients with blood cancers.

“I’ve seen the whole spectrum: people who are completely in despair and depressed and just can’t see how they’re gonna get through this,” Pierce elaborated. “And then I‘ve seen other people who are totally accepting.”

“The hardest is when we’re dealing with a middle aged person who has children,” Pierce said. “They need to find the way to talk to their children before they die and explain to them that they’re dying.”

These are some of the things Pierce thinks about as she prepares for the marathon. She must raise $3,500 in order to participate; she has raised $1,500 to date from family, friends, colleagues at the VNA and people through her kids’ daycare at Kids in Fitness.

There is a significant physical and time commitment as well. Pierce, who took up running for fitness six years ago, will log over 450 miles in training prior to the event at Walt Disney World in January. She gets up at 5:00 a.m. for weekday runs three or four days a week on her basement treadmill; weekend runs are with a volunteer coach for a Team in Training group.

Team in Training is an endurance sports training program for marathons, half-marathons, triathlons and 100-mile bicycle rides – all of which raise funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Robyn Haberman, program campaign manager for the Upstate New York/Vermont Society chapter, said that Pierce is one of about twenty Vermonters who will participate in a Team in Training event this year. The funds raised through these events make a difference to people right here in Vermont.

“I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the research the Team in Training raised funds for,” shared Dave Cranmer of Shelburne, a volunteer patient advocate for the Society.

Cranmer was diagnosed in October 1999 with CML – chronic myeloid leukemia – a relatively rarer form of blood cancer.

“Research advances very rapidly and now people who are diagnosed with the leukemia that I had are offered much less invasive treatment than what I had to go through – and that’s just in six years,” explained Cranmer.

A significant portion of funds raised by the LLS goes to research, though the organization also supports public and professional education and services to patients and their families.

“In the last 10-15 years, survival rates have gone from almost nothing to fifty percent,” Cranmer continued.

There are other improvements. Cranmer had to travel to Boston for treatment. Now, because of research breakthroughs, more treatment is available closer to home for Vermonters, he said.

Nearly three-quarters of a million Americans currently battle blood cancers. Vermont can expect to see an estimated 300 new cases of blood cancers diagnosed in 2006, said Haberman.

Cranmer, who has been in remission for four years, supported this.

“Vermont has a significant amount of leukemia & lymphoma throughout the state,” Cranmer said. “You don’t have to go very far before you meet someone whose life has been impacted.”

[Read more…]

Williston doctor provies free medical care to Katrina evacuees

By Kim Howard
Observer correspondent

When Dr. Gil Theriault returned from the Gulf Coast, he brought back a pen pal connection for his eleven-year-old daughter and dozens of digital pictures.

The pictures capture sporadic moments of two trips – one to Texas and one to Louisiana – during which Theriault provided primary medical care to evacuees of Hurricane Katrina.

“I had never done anything like this before. It was extremely rewarding,” said Theriault, 51, last Saturday at Thomas Chittenden Health Center, where he has worked for five years.

A Williston resident since 1998, Theriault said he was able to treat a wide range of problems while in the Gulf Coast. Chronic conditions like hypertension and diabetes were common, according to Theriault. He also treated those with vomiting, diarrhea and skin infections.

Getting to the Gulf Coast required considerable effort. Like several colleagues at the health center, Theriault signed up on Web sites to volunteer. When he did not get any leads, he made about sixty phone calls to Louisiana to find out how to help.

“In most cases they said there was a need, but I would get six phone numbers and I’d make those six calls and it would bring me back to the beginning,” Theriault explained.

It wasn’t until he found a Web site posting by a Galveston, Texas physician that Theriault found his match. Theriault called her cell phone number and the doctor herself answered; the University of Texas at Galveston sponsored him; and within twenty-four hours he had a temporary Texas medical license. On Sept. 11, nearly two weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit, Theriault was on his way to Houston’s George Brown Convention Center.

Theriault said he was “fairly overwhelmed” the first time he walked in. Five city blocks long, one city block wide, and three floors high, the convention center was one of three Houston locations housing approximately 25,000 evacuees in exhibit halls and ballrooms.

Theriault said he was impressed with the Red Cross. A phone bank enabled evacuees to attempt to reach loved ones. Showers were available in assigned 15-minute slots. Food, medicine, eye care, and dental care were provided free to all evacuees.

“I really appreciated the direct care that could be given to the people,” said Theriault, noting the absence of insurance and other paperwork.

Theriault worked twelve to fourteen hours each day, seeing fifty to sixty patients. “It was like being a resident again,” said Theriault of the pace.

Midweek, Theriault went to St. Agnes Church, located thirty minutes outside of Houston, where the Red Cross was distributing individual relief checks for $365 to between ten and fifteen thousand people a day. With temperatures in the high 90s, Theriault attended to many whose health worsened from standing in line in the heat.

Theriault returned from Houston on Sept. 18. Two days later, Louisiana called. On Sept. 27, Theriault was on his way again.

In Marksville, 30 miles outside of Alexandria, Theriault found a different kind of shelter than what he saw in Houston.

“The roof leaked. There was very little air. If you’ll notice, no windows,” he said, pointing to a picture of the cramped and condemned textile factory housing 600 people where Garanimals children’s clothing had once been manufactured.

“The place was infested with fire ants inside the building, lice, the sorts of things you get when people are in close quarters,” Theriault explained.

Theriault soon moved on to the Alexandria Riverfront Convention Center, where he was the only doctor for several days. He returned to Vermont on Oct. 2.

Regardless of shelter conditions, medical supplies were tight everywhere. Theriault had collected supplies from Thomas Chittenden Health Center. Williston Hannaford pharmacy manager Janet Goodell, and her husband, John Goodell, donated money to cover antibiotics that would have cost $400 retail.

“The medicine was well-dispensed; I came back with nothing,” said Theriault. “It was very gratifying to dispense the medicine with no strings attached.”

Theriault has four children, two of whom are students at Williston Central School. He has not talked with them about many details of his trips.

“I’m unable to share any of the evacuees’ stories yet. It’s been too hard. It’s really been too hard to talk about,” he said quietly. “Invariably, almost everybody I talked to lost everything they had. It was that story repeated over and over one hundred times.”

What he did share with his children was how much he liked the people he met.

“The people were just wonderful,” Theriault said. “Even though most of these people had lost everything…they just had a great spirit and a wonderful sense of humor.”

Theriault said he is glad to be home. Yet, he said, “and at the same time, I wish I could be back there helping.”

[Read more…]

Williston bike path gets rolling

By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

The town awarded a contract Tuesday for the first construction phase of a planned multi-million-dollar bike path.

Williston Public Works Director Neil Boyden announced that All Seasons Excavating & Landscaping Inc., of Colchester would begin work Monday – weather dependent – on the 790-foot section of the bike path, located northwest of Taft Corners near Helena Drive.

Boyden said the company plans to complete construction of the 10-foot-wide path, which includes the asphalt path; retaining wall; and seeding and mulching around the path. Landscaping around the path will have to wait until the spring, Boyden said.

The contracted amount for this phase of the project is $99,678.85.

The section is part of a larger network of bike paths that the town voted to build at town meeting in 2003. The entire length of the path will be about 2-3 miles, Boyden estimated.

Boyden explained that the town is beginning with a relatively small piece of the bike path. because he was able to acquire permits, easements and rights of way for the piece. Since many sections of the path go through privately owned land, property owners must grant easements to the town that allow the paths to be constructed and used.

“That tends to be a long process,” Boyden said. “There’s always someone who doesn’t want it in their front yard or back yard.”

Bidding for the project was opened two weeks ago, and the town received three bids, Boyden said. The highest bid was more than $160,000, and All Seasons Excavating offered the lowest price for the job, he said.

A year and a half ago the town bonded $2.6 million for a bike path in various locations around Williston. The sections of the path bonded by the town are expected to be completed in the next 2-4 years. There are more sections of the path that were approved for town-matching funds. For these sections, the town must first secure federal money for the path, and then the town will match the funds provided by the government and build those sections.

“I don’t know how much we’ll be seeing in the next fiscal year,” Boyden said. “A lot of that money went to the southern part of the country” for hurricane relief, he said.

[Read more…]

Town tour takes board members to points of interest

By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

Monday’s Selectboard meeting started out with an unconventional call to order: Everyone pile into Selectman Ted Kenney’s minivan.

The purpose was the “Tour of Town Facilities,” an agenda item that Town Manager Rick McGuire said occurs once every two years or so, to give people a sense of what projects the town is working on.

Four members of the board; McGuire; a reporter; and Kenney’s 3-year-old daughter Ella climbed aboard and set out for the first stop, the Sucker Brook.

Sucker Brook

The Sucker Brook Avulsion Stabilization Project is an effort to restore an avulsed, or forcibly separated, area of a tributary of the Sucker Brook, located in the southwest part of Williston. Town Planner Lee Nellis and Environmental Planner Carrie Deegan explained that in the 1980s, a severe rainstorm caused the stream to change course. The stream literally jumped out of its streambed and left its path to a 30-foot waterfall to flow into a sand and gravel pit nearby.

“A big storm flushed it through here,” Nellis said, as the group walked through a long, sandy depression where grass was just beginning to grow along the side of the stream. “We estimate that 30,000 tons of sediment have moved out of here in the last 20 years because of it. Now we are in the process of stopping that.”

The first 425 feet of the stream have been forced into a channel that is now lined with gray stones. Four stone weirs (small dams) break up the downhill flow, and a flood plain has been constructed with grass and other vegetation so as to help stop erosion along the sides of the stream. The eroded sediment that was washing into Lake Champlain carried about a ton of algae-causing phosphorus with it.

The first half of the project cost about $150,000.

“We’ve worked step by step to acquire money from a host of different grant programs, and any time we saw a grant that was remotely related to this, we’d apply for it,” McGuire explained.

However, the second half of the project, restoration of another 465 feet of the stream, is estimated to cost about $217,000, Deegan said.

“The difference is that the access for construction vehicles is a lot more difficult on that section so we’re anticipating that’s really going to drive the bid prices up,” she said.

Town garage

The next stop was the Public Works garage, which houses the town’s snowplows, trucks, an aging grader, and other heavy machinery; and the Water and Sewer building next door.

Public Works Director Neil Boyden led the group on a quick tour of the buildings. Boyden said the early-’70s-era garage occupies about five acres of land, which he says is barely enough.

“We’re busting at the seams here,” Boyden said. “But I think even a bigger issue is the location.”

Boyden explained that since the garage is located in the northwest section of town, it can be difficult for drivers to get to the garage in the winter, and then hard for the plows to get out onto the streets.

“It’s terrible. If you get a snowstorm in the afternoon during commuting hours we can’t even get trucks out of here,” Boyden said.

McGuire said the town is looking into selling the property and buying land in a more accessible location.

Ella admired the big trucks, earthmovers and the town’s new $80,000 orange sidewalk plow.

“As we gain more walks and bike paths, we’re certainly going to have more demand for maintenance,” Boyden said. The plow is kept in the garage in the summer, and in the winter is stored at the fire station.

Walking past the salt shed, which is held together by cables and had its roof blown off last winter, the entourage headed for the Water and Sewer building. The building holds three vehicles; endless rolls of plans; and shelves full of spare parts for the town’s 80-90 miles of waterways and 60-70 miles of sewer pipes. It also has no shower, which several Selectboard members noted was a bit inappropriate.

Ball fields

The final stop on the way back to Town Hall was a large open space behind the Allen Brook School, which is being tapped for a future site of public sports fields.

“We had a task force look at this and they said this was an acceptable location for ball fields,” McGuire said. “We do have some neighborhoods along the side here that we’re going to have to be careful about if we do ultimately develop this for ball fields. But it’s a great location, other than that.”

McGuire said the site would not be turned into the ball fields for some time, and the project was still in its initial stages.

By this time, Ella was beginning to get restless and hungry, and the board was ready to start their formal meeting. The car took a swing by the site of the future fire and rescue station at the Mahan Farm on U.S. Route 2, before turning in to the Town Hall parking lot and starting the meeting.

And a very well-behaved Ella was thrilled to be reunited with her mom and to be going home.

[Read more…]

Students explore

Anti-Defamation League holds program at WCS for first time

By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

In the cool, damp basement of the Old Brick Church last Thursday, Williston middle school students used laughter, honesty and open discussion to create their own warm and constructive environment. The students were in training to become “allies” for those in the school who are discriminated against or singled out by others.

The children were in their fourth and final day of “A World of Difference” diversity and anti-bias training, a program started by the Anti-Defamation League two decades ago. The training was led by facilitators Kathy Johnson, director of Equity Initiatives at Vermont Institutes; and independent consultant Robert Jones, and was coordinated by Williston Central School Guidance Counselor Carol Bick.

Johnson said the four days of workshops and training had covered a lot of ground. The discussions ranged from sexism, racism, and classism, to homophobia, discrimination, and harassment.

“This is life stuff,” Johnson said. “The kids respond very enthusiastically, and they’re curious. They want to talk about these issues.”

The 18-hour training is meant to prepare students to become Peer Trainers, who can be leaders in their school and help prevent discriminatory behavior. Central Valley Union High School has been holding the training sessions for five years, but this was the first year it was held for WCS students.

The seventh- and eighth-graders will eventually lead groups of fifth-grade students in discussions about topics most kids – not to mention adults – wouldn’t usually breach.

The training culminated in the children leading presentations they might use with the younger students.

One group led a discussion on exclusivity, by having the audience – mostly other kids – divide themselves up according to categories such as favorite ice cream flavor, birthday month or number of siblings. Then the audience was asked how they felt about being put into those groups. Some groups with only one person, such as one seventh-grader who said he has 23 siblings, felt isolated, and larger groups were generally more comfortable.

Johnson said the kids felt that adults in Williston schools were very conscientious of bullying, but there were still some issues when adults were not present.

“Part of the challenge is for these kids to become leaders by example within the school,” Johnson said. “So they refrain from bullying, and become allies instead of bystanders, … who will step forward when they see something.”

Bick stressed that the program was not just about bullying, which the school has worked hard to combat.

“We’ve done a really good job with bullying,” she said. “But there is still a lot of work to do around differences and acceptance of differences.”

Jones, who has been working with the ADL as a trainer and consultant for 15 years, said the Williston students had truly taken to the program.

“These kids, they’re open, smart, they’re grasping the theory and concepts,” Jones said. “I would say they are in the top five, of middle school kids, who grasp it.”

Jones said that Vermont poses unique challenges that are important to discuss, such as sexual orientation and class differences.

“I also see the challenges of the whole foster care system and adoptions,” Jones said. “Even though there might not be a whole lot of people of color up here, there’s a lot of families and couples who are adopting children from all over the world that are in schools.”

The kids themselves seemed to have become more aware of biases that others – and themselves – might have, and felt they were developing the tools to deal with them. A group of seventh-graders discussed their thoughts while munching on pizza during a lunch break.

“I’ve learned a lot of leadership skills,” Derek Goodwin said. “It’s taught me not to judge or stereotype as much, because I stereotype quite a bit.”

Evan Healy said he felt that the program would be useful at Williston Central School, and it would especially help students be more comfortable with the relative lack of diversity in Vermont.

“I’ve lived in three different states,” Healy said. “I really wish that this was going on when I was in fifth grade.”

Healy said the program has also helped him make a new friend, whom he may not have known how to approach before.

“When I first saw him I thought he was a little weird,” said Healy of fellow student and trainee Khanh Nguyen. “Now I think he’s really cool. And he’s really strong, too. He could lift up this whole couch with us three on it.”

“It gets me to talk more than I used to,” Nguyen said. “It’s helped me work with a group better.”

Bick, who organized the training, said she considered the training an initial success.

“The kids really got a lot out of it,” she said. “Everyone thought it was worthwhile and was glad they did it.”

The “A World of Difference Institute” training program was started by the Anti-Defamation League in 1985. The ADL is a nonprofit organization founded in 1913 to help stop discrimination against Jews.

Numerous academic studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of the training. A 2004-2005 study by the Yale University Institution for Social and Policy Studies on the World of Difference training found that the program was very successful in changing students’ behavior.

“One of the most exciting findings of the study was that Peer Trainers were recognized by their Friends and Peers as people who were most likely in the school to stand up for other students who were being teased or insulted,” the study says.

The study, which surveyed students from 10 U.S. schools, included data from Vermont’s Twinfield Union School in Plainfield, Johnson said.

[Read more…]

State official:

AOT official critical of Allen Brook bus loop

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

An unconventional school bus driveway that causes young students at Allen Brook School to walk between buses has raised some eyebrows with state officials.

The driveway, which acts as a makeshift bus loop cut-through, and the contents of a maintenance garage and storage sheds were among the safety concerns raised by the Development Review Board last week during a hearing regarding the temporary classrooms at Allen Brook School.

None of these items were previously outlined in site plans brought before the board, so none had officially been approved. School officials last week went before the Development Review Board to request a new permit for temporary trailers installed three years ago in response to overcrowding.

The primary safety concern of the board was that of an unpermitted “secondary” bus loop, a gravel drive cut across the main bus loop, which allows more flexibility for bus parking given the varied arrival times of afternoon pick-ups. One afternoon last week, two buses were parked along this cut-through.

Stephen Sherrill, traffic investigations supervisor with the Vermont Agency of Transportation, said that without seeing the site it’s hard to pass judgment on it. Nevertheless, “school bus loading and unloading should be done in a manner that does not expect the children to be walking between buses,” he said.

“I wouldn’t go so far to say that it’s illegal, but it’s certainly ill advised,” said Sherrill, noting that specific regulations are laid out in the Department of Motor Vehicles School Bus Driver Manual. “There are so many things that can happen to small children in front of or behind a large bus. It is just not a safe practice at all.”

  • Requests for comment by an official at the Chittenden South Supervisory Union were not immediately answered.

Allen Brook School Principal John Terko said last Wednesday afternoon that the school employs a number of strategies to ensure kids are safe in the current bus loading process. No vehicle other than a school bus is allowed into the bus loop. Generally two adults and Terko stand outside monitoring the bus-loading process. No bus is allowed to move until bus drivers are radioed by one of the adults on duty that the roadway is clear.

Without the gravel cut-through, or secondary loop, at least four buses would have to line up single file. The doors for at least two of those buses would face away from where staff members stand, making it impossible for teachers to monitor kids as they get on those buses.

“It’s easier to see the kids when the buses are lined up where they are,” Terko said.

Board members also questioned the safety of storing gasoline in the maintenance garage, but a state official dismissed those fears.

The garage was on site prior to the permitting of the trailers, but had not been on the original site plan. The garage, while fifty feet away from the main school building, sits immediately adjacent to the school’s playground.

Terko said the garage holds maintenance tools – tractors, lawn mowers, winter salt, and miscellaneous tools – as well as two 5-gallon containers of diesel and one 5-gallon container of gasoline.

Robert Patterson, regional manager for the Division of Fire Safety for the Vermont Department of Public Safety, said that s mall quantities of fuel stored in metal containers pose no significant threat when in a secured, locked building.

“There is no loss history that I’m aware of that people have been in jeopardy if they’re playing outside next to a building with gas in it,” Patterson said by phone last week in response to a description of the building’s proximity to the playground. “If you have a fire that ensues in that building…it’s just not going to be out of control that quickly to jeopardize the children.”

The smaller storage sheds contain non-hazardous materials, according to Terko. The shed on the eastern side of the school contains school supplies, fans, crates and games. Athletic equipment, tricycles and wagons fill the shed on the west side of the school.

Trailers’ lifespan also a concern

Board member Cathy O’Brien asked at last week’s meeting about the manufacturer’s estimate for the temporary trailers’ lifespan. Several board members noted that modular units recently replaced at Champlain Valley Union High School were “dismal.”

Bob Mason, chief operations officer for Chittenden South Supervisory Union, which helps administer Williston and other area school districts, acknowledged that as trailers are used for longer periods of time, “the less viable they are for a long-term solution.” He noted that CVU’s units were constructed in the mid-1960s and that facilities at the high school level tend to have greater wear than elementary school facilities.

Bob Warrington, general manager at Schiavi Leasing Corp., which supplied the trailers, said they should have a lifespan of thirty to fifty years, provided there is not deferred maintenance.

“As long as they’re maintained, the roof is kept up and maintained well, and the systems are maintained, the materials and the components and the systems in those buildings should … last a long time,” said Warrington.

Mason said the School Board over the long-term wants to do “something permanent” at the site that is both taxpayer- and enrollment-friendly. The cost of a permanent structure would be significant, and enrollment remains uncertain. After years of adding an average of three dozen students to its roster, the district has seen a decline in enrollment for the past three years. Enrollment this year has dropped nearly three dozen students.

The application for a second temporary permit for the Allen Brook School trailers will next be considered at the Nov. 22 Development Review Board meeting.

[Read more…]

Second man charged in Williston sexual assault case

Pair allegedly abused young girl

By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

Detectives from the Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations arrested a Hinesburg man Friday in connection with the sexual abuse of a 10-year-old Williston girl who was allegedly molested and assaulted over a two- to three-year period.

Derek Kimball, 33, was charged with two counts of aggravated sexual assault and one count of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child, according to court records. Kimball, a Hinesburg resident, is being held at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Center in South Burlington. His bail was set at $25,000.

An acquaintance of Kimball’s, 34-year-old Williston resident Mark Hulett, was arraigned on the same charges in May, but he was released in June on a $50,000 bond. Hulett is scheduled to be sentenced at the end of this month.

Both men are accused of having sexual contact with the girl, whose mother was a high school friend of Hulett’s. In a sworn affidavit, Detective Sgt. Bruce Bovat , the director of CUSI, said that he and CUSI Detective John Dunn approached Kimball at his place of work, Chittenden County Solid Waste District, in South Burlington on Friday. They interviewed Kimball in their car, where Kimball admitted to having had sex with the girl once, and varying degrees of sexual contact on different occasions, Bovat said in the affidavit.

According to Bovat, the girl told her cousin that Kimball threatened to kill her and her family if she ever told anyone about his sexually assaulting her. The girl also told her cousin that Kimball had once used handcuffs while touching her, the records say.

Bovat said that Kimball admitted to the detectives that he knew he had done something wrong with the girl. Bovat asked what Kimball would say to the girl if she were there. The records show that Kimball responded, “I would apologize for what I’ve done and hope that you could get your life back on track and be able to continue on.”

Bovat said CUSI had to wait until the opportune moment to arrest Kimball.

“With the information we had, it was a timing issue,” Bovat said. “It was the right time to approach (Kimball).”

Other developments

Despite an objection by the state prosecutor, Hulett was released from jail in June into the custody of his parents. Hulett changed his original plea of innocent to a guilty plea in August, according to court documents. Hulett and the state have not reached any agreement or plea deal, according to the prosecutor in the case, Deputy State’s Attorney Nicole Andreson, so it is unclear what Hulett’s sentence will be.

Hulett’s sentencing hearing is scheduled to take place on Oct. 31. If the sentence imposed is longer than three months, Hulett might change his plea at the hearing. Hulett and his attorney, Mark Kaplan, filed a notice with the court Aug. 20, which states “the Defendant shall have the right to withdraw his plea of guilty if his sentence to serve is greater than 90 days.”

According to court records, Hulett’s sentence could be as short as 30 days, with a lengthy probation. In a memorandum filed with Vermont District Court in Burlington, Andreson wrote that, “given the nature and frequency of the assaults, as well as the age of the victim,” the state is recommending a sentence of 8-20 years in jail.

“It will certainly be a contested sentence, I can say that,” Andreson said in a phone interview. Kaplan did not return multiple phone calls to his office to comment for this story.

Court documents show that Hulett, a former Williston firefighter, admitted to having repeated sexual contact with the girl beginning when she was 8 years old.

The girl’s parents told police that they sometimes found Hulett and their daughter sleeping in the same bed at the family’s home, but they did not stop the practice, records indicate. Hulett also babysat for the girl, and often picked her up from school. The documents say Hulett spent about two nights a week at the girl’s home in Williston.

While the parents might have exercised poor judgment regarding their daughter’s relationship with Hulett, Andreson said they have not been charged with any crime.

The parents reported the alleged abuse to law enforcement officials in May. The girl had told her cousin about having sexual encounters with Hulett at the same time she talked about being assaulted by Kimball. The cousin then told another relative, who alerted the parents, according to the records.

[Read more…]

School district faces trailer hitch

Board disapproves making temporary classrooms permanent

By Kim Howard
Observer correspondent

The Development Review Board expressed dissatisfaction Tuesday with Williston School District’s request to make permanent the trailers at Allen Brook School. The modular classrooms were installed three years ago as a temporary measure to ease overcrowding.

“This wasn’t really meant to be a long-term solution,” Board member Brian Jennings said of the project the board approved in July 2002. “We were under the impression that the School Board was going to be coming back to us in a couple of years with some sort of master plan for the site.”

Board members indicated a willingness to consider an application for a five-year permit, with one stipulation being that school officials return to the Development Review Board well before the expiration date – perhaps as early as three years from now – with a permanent site plan.

“If you think there’s always going to be a need for the additional space the modulars provide, why not come back to the plan of building a permanent structure on the school?” asked board member Kelly Barland.

Bob Mason, chief operations officer for Chittenden South Supervisory Union, which helps administer Williston and other area school districts, said the district would be “more than happy” to modify the application to request a five-year permit for the units instead of permanent approval.

Growing student enrollment in Williston led Allen Brook School in 2002 to install double-wide trailers for more classroom space. The units, which accommodate about 80 students, were intended as temporary until the Williston School District could assess options for permanent expansion.

Soon after construction of the temporary classrooms, however, student enrollment leveled off. After years of adding an average of three dozen students to its roster, the district saw a slight drop in enrollment over the last two years. This year, enrollment has dropped more than three dozen students, according to District Principal Walter Nardelli.

Mason told the board that while the trailers were meant to be temporary, “enrollment has changed such that it’s not prudent for the school to go forward with the long-term plan for Allen Brook to double in size.” That previously-considered plan was estimated to cost $6 million.

Since the end of September, the trailers at Allen Brook School have been in violation of a town zoning ordinance. At the time of the trailers’ construction, the Development Review Board granted the permit on condition the trailers be removed after three years and the site returned to its original state.

In June of this year, school officials requested a three-year extension of the permit, which the Development Review Board denied. The permitting process exists in part for public safety, board chair Kevin McDermott had indicated, so a new application was necessary. Safety concerns raised by board members included the location of the secondary bus loading loop, a gravel parking lot intended for deliveries which is being used for parking, and the proximity of storage sheds to the school.

School district officials failed to submit the new site plan application in time for the board to consider the issue prior to the expiration of the original permit on Sept. 27.

The application will next be considered at the Nov. 22 board meeting.

[Read more…]

Roundabout rules of the road

By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

Roundabouts in Vermont are as rare as catamounts, but that may not be the case forever. A major road revamp in Winooski has resulted in a huge roundabout replacing the old, signaled intersection. And last week, Vermont Agency of Transportation Secretary Dawn Terrill announced that two of the four alternatives to the Circumferential Highway in Williston include a series of roundabouts on Vermont Route 2A. The intersection roundabouts would conceivably ease traffic problems between Interstate 89 and the Five Corners in Essex Junction.

Williston does have one roundabout – in Maple Tree Place – and while police say there have been no accidents reported in the roundabout, the area is quite congested, especially around the holidays, and sometimes confuses motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.

VTrans spokesman Ian Grossman said the Maple Tree Place roundabout is much smaller-scale than anything that would be constructed on Vermont Route 2A. “The factors would be significantly different on a major roadway,” Grossman said. “Not all intersections are created the same.”

Nevertheless, many Vermonters do not know how to navigate even a small roundabout safely and legally. In advance of the holiday season, keep these factors in mind as you navigate through Maple Tree Place.

The roundabout is composed of three main components. The “circulatory roadway” is the main, central part of the roundabout. The “legs” are the four roads that approach the central circulatory roadway. And the “splitter islands” are the triangular dividers in the legs that are designed to clearly divide entry and exit lanes around the perimeter of the circulatory roadway.

For vehicles

  • Reduce speed, keep to the right of the splitter island, and wait for an acceptable gap before entering the circulatory roadway.
  • Traffic always turns to the right, into and out of the roundabout, and moves in a counterclockwise direction.
  • Use your turn signal when exiting, but not when entering.
  • Vehicles within the roundabout should not stop except to avoid a collision. Once inside, you have the right of way over entering traffic.
  • Never pass any other vehicle inside the roundabout.
  • When an emergency vehicle is approaching, exit the roundabout and pull over after you have passed the splitter island.

Police say that many drivers assume all traffic on Maple Tree Place Road has the right of way. But actually traffic entering the roundabout from any direction has the right of way, as long as the driver can safely enter the roundabout ahead of any vehicle approaching from a different direction.


For cyclists

Low-speed, single-lane roundabouts such as in Maple Tree Place should not present much difficulty for cyclists, according to police. When navigating the roundabout, cyclists should:

  • Merge into the travel lane before the bike lane ends.
  • Ride as if driving in a car, traveling about 10-15 mph.
  • Claim the lane, and don’t hug the curb. Ride in the middle of the lane.


For pedestrians

  • People on foot should be extra cautious when trying to cross a roundabout.
  • Walk around the perimeter of the roundabout, never walk through it.
  • Cross the roundabout legs about one-vehicle length away from the circulatory section.
  • Look and listen for approaching traffic.
  • Use the splitter islands. That way you can cross only one direction of traffic at a time.

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Police Postpone Picketing

By Marianne Apfelbaum
Observer staff

Concerned about public perception, the Williston Police Officers Association has decided to postpone its plans for informational picketing until after a fact finder’s meeting next month.

After reaching an impasse in contract negotiations with the town, police union steward Bart Chamberlain indicated officers were planning to proceed with picketing as a means to inform residents of officers’ complaints, which center on pay and benefits. “We’d be in front of Town Hall, at Taft Corners, and other high traffic areas,” said Chamberlain in August. “Most residents support us and have no idea we’re the lowest paid department in the county.”

Now, union officials are recommending a wait-and-see approach. “Based on experience, (picketing) might be perceived as negative while we are waiting for the fact finding process,” said Chamberlain, a sergeant with the Williston Police Department. “We are not trying to embarrass the town.”

A fact finder will meet with both town and police union representatives on Nov. 1. Information will be presented by both parties, after which the fact finder will analyze the data and produce a report with his recommendations.

Town Manager Rick McGuire notes that the process could essentially end with a contract resolution at the meeting if there are just a couple of areas where there is still disagreement. The fact finder can act as a mediator to resolve the issues during the meeting itself. The Williston Selectboard has to approve the final contract, however.

In any case, McGuire sees a light at the end of the tunnel. “I am confident that the process will end in a solution that is fair to both the town and the employees,” McGuire said.

Chamberlain is less optimistic. Waiting to decide whether to picket until after the fact finding meeting “gives us an opportunity to see if they will put a good faith effort into the process,” he said. “But if the town has a preset idea of what they are willing to do for raises, and if the fact finder’s report is higher, then I think they’ll refuse to honor it.”

McGuire would not comment on specifics of the pay increase requested by the union, or on what the town is willing to pay.

At issue is not just agreement on annual pay increases, but also on a one-time “wage adjustment” to get Williston officers’ pay in line with that of other Chittenden County departments. “Once you hit the three year mark, Williston officers are the lowest paid of any police department in Chittenden County,” Chamberlain said. He also emphasized the high cost to the town in losing officers to other departments where he says the pay is higher. “We’ve become a training facility. The town is spending tens of thousand of dollars on training, and it makes the officers look very attractive to other departments,” he said. “The town is being very shortsighted.”

Currently, there are three openings in the department, which has been advertising for the positions for several weeks. There are 19 candidates, but none of them are certified. That means anyone chosen from that pool of applicants would have to attend the 18-week Vermont Police Academy before they can start patrolling Williston.

Part-time Williston police dispatcher Karen Hulbert, who also works for the Essex Police Department, is frustrated with what she sees as the disparities between Williston and the rest of Chittenden County. “I work in Essex also and there is no comparison. The other (police) departments think Williston is a joke,” she said. “If Williston residents could really see what goes on, they wouldn’t be impressed.

“There are some specific symptoms, like fear, anxiety, and loneliness that tend to affect the children of deployed soldiers. So we try to arrange morale-boosting events,” Klein said. “We have movie nights in Camp Johnson’s recreational room, and nights where the kids can just hang out. It’s especially difficult on these kids, because they don’t live at the base. They live all over, some as far away as Rutland, St. Albans, or Addison, so they don’t see each other much. This was arranged to get these kids together so they could have some fun and enjoy the bond they share.”

“This is awesome—it takes your mind off things,” said Jamie Hackley. Her father, Mike, was in Louisiana for three weeks, and has just returned to Camp Johnson. “It’s really easy to connect with the other kids, because we all know what it’s really like:sad, frustrating, just very hard at home. But here, we can give each other pointers on how to deal with things,” she said.

Ben Kelley’s dad, Mike, has finally returned after serving 13 months in Iraq. Ben, whose family lives in Orange, says, “I missed my dad a lot. He was gone so long, it was hard to get used to having him back. And if he goes now, it’ll be hard to get used to having him gone again.”

John Boyd, Jr.’s father has been in Afghanistan for three months now, and he and his family won’t see John Sr. until his two-week leave in January. “It’s a nice thing just to have fun like this,” John admits. “It lets us relax.”

Despite these difficulties, it was clear they were having a great time at the challenge course. Most of the kids sported new watch-bracelets which read, “Proud to be a military kid!” The coordinators on the Pine Ridge side were also pleased with how the day turned out.

“We used to offer our challenge course as an extensive program for lots of local schools in the area, as well as groups and companies who wanted the experience,” Bruening said. “Over time, we found that our own students were being left out of this process, and so we focused it on them. But it is a wonderful tool to offer to these kids, and our students leading the group are getting their first chance to teach others how it’s done.”

“For four years now, I’ve been playing out here every chance I get,” said senior Wes Bell, waving his arm to indicate the beautiful wooded surroundings, a peaceful vision of nature, despite the various cable, rope and wood obstacles. “This is a great character-building experience for a great group of people. And you just can’t compare the service that we are doing here with the service that these kids’ parents are doing overseas.”

The course offers a unique opportunity: a chance to climb without danger, and fall without pain.

“The premise of the program is to help people feel good about who they are,” Bruening said, “and my hope is that their experience on the course takes them to a place where they can challenge themselves, take a risk and conquer a fear, and then transfer what they learn

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