Program continues to grow in popularity
By Ben Moger-Williams
The Intergenerational Reading Program kicked off its third year last Wednesday at Williston Central School with a gathering of 50 middle school students and over a dozen senior citizens.
The program is like a book club that matches up groups of students with senior citizens from the Williston community. The students and the seniors read the same book and then get together monthly at the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library to discuss it. The books, chosen by teachers at the school, all have a theme that relates to intergenerational relationships.
The group gathered around tables in the school’s dining room for a potluck lunch last Wednesday to meet each other and receive their first book.
“It’s proven to be fun, the kids are great,” said Germaine Lamothe, 75, in her third year with the program. “They are very sophisticated, very traveled. It seems funny to be talking to a kid who has been to New Zealand or all over England. You get an education, really.”
Callan Suozzi-Rearic, 13, said this was her second year in the reading group. “I like talking to other kids and I love talking to senior citizens about the books because I love reading. It’s an interesting mix of thoughts.”
The program was founded in 2003 with help from a grant from the Vermont Council on the Humanities to promote interaction between students in grades 5-8 and members of the community, and to encourage people to use the library. Parents and library staff have worked hard to make the program a success. Now in its third year, the program has grown substantially since its pilot year.
Parent volunteer and program coordinator Ann Durkee said the program started out as a small group, organized by former Outreach Librarians Ann Van Guilder and Deb Runge. The first group comprised only 10 students and a few senior citizens. This year, the group includes 50 students, 14 senior volunteers and five parent volunteers, and the group will read six books over a six-month period. Durkee said she has been the coordinator for the past two years, but this year she has the help of volunteers Mary Ellen Daniels and Lisa Barland.
The program has grown very popular with Williston students. Williston Central School is divided into upper and lower Houses, or groups of classes in grades 1-4 and 5-8. Durkee said that each of the schools’ six upper Houses has eight slots to fill for the program, and a Language Arts teacher selects the participants. Sometimes there is not enough space for the number of students who volunteer to be in the group.
“It’s up to the teacher’s discretion,” Durkee said. “They know it’s a big commitment.”
Robert Coon, a former faculty member at the University of Vermont’s medical school, said he has been involved with the program from the start.
“It keeps me off the streets,” quipped Coon, 85. “I’ve enjoyed reading the books and enjoyed the interaction with these young ladies,” he said.
Coon’s remark highlighted an obvious feature of the group of students: Girls far outnumber boys.
“We do tend to get more girls to participate at this age,” Durkee said. “I don’t think we’ll ever see a flip, but the boys who have participated have been great.”
Estelle Alsruhe, 71, said she joined the program because she was a literature major in college, and also missed the book club she was involved with in her native Maryland.
Alsruhe said the books she read last year were all related to a theme. “The characters all suffer some kind of loss in their life, and there’s an adult that appears to help them get through it.”
She was also impressed with the students involved with the group. “I had no idea they were so sophisticated,” she said.
Durkee hails the program as a resounding success.
“Over the past few years I have observed the development of a genuine fondness and mutual respect between the participants which far exceeded my expectations,” she said in an e-mail.
The students’ books are purchased with money provided by the Williston school parents’ organization, Families As Partners. The library buys the books for the senior citizens. Durkee said the total cost of the program this year is about $500-$600. When the program is finished, the books will be donated to the library, she said.
Contractor misses deadlines for completing work
By Greg Elias
Incentives and deadlines designed to speed work during a summer-long paving project on Interstate 89 helped limit traffic snarls, but state officials acknowledge the job still took longer than hoped.
Work is winding down on the 16-mile stretch of southbound I-89 between South Burlington and Bolton. The main travel lanes are paved. As of Tuesday, the work remaining included painting line markings, installing rumble strips and paving the exit 11 ramp in Richmond.
State transportation officials say a unique combination of bonuses and penalties for the first phase of the project helped meet the primary goal: getting the work done quickly so traffic tie-ups would be minimized along one of the busiest stretches of highway in Vermont.
“It was a good experience from our side,” said Mike Pologruto, paving program manager for the state Agency of Transportation. “I’m not sure about how the contractor feels.”
The contractor, Frank W. Whitcomb Construction Corp., was required to complete the segment between South Burlington and Williston within 30 days. The agreement called for a $5,000-a-day bonus or penalty for each day the project was finished before or after the deadline.
Whitcomb Construction missed the deadline by eight days and faces a $40,000 penalty, Pologruto said. He said the company will also miss this Saturday’s deadline for the remaining work.
Chip Whitcomb, owner of Whitcomb Construction, did not return telephone calls seeking comment. The company was awarded the project with a low bid of $4.5 million earlier this year.
Stephanie Barrett, who was hired by Whitcomb Construction to inform motorists of the project’s progress, said there were problems obtaining materials needed to complete the first phase of paving, which made it impossible to meet the deadline.
Vic Dwire, the project’s resident engineer for the Agency of Transportation, said congestion caused by the project was manageable. But he acknowledged that the deadline, combined with another contract provision that limited the work between South Burlington and Williston to non-commute hours, made for a trying few weeks at the project’s outset.
“It put an extreme hardship on both the contractor and state employees,” he said. “There were some days I worked 20 hours.”
Pologruto estimated the remaining work would be finished within about two weeks. All that is needed is a few days of dry weather with seasonable temperatures.
Snow or ice “would be a crimp on it for sure,” he said. “But it’s highly unlikely we’d have that kind of weather and not get a break. They should get the markings done this week or next week. Barring some freakish weather … all the stuff should be done by the end of the month.”
The project was among the largest paving jobs in the state this year and the biggest in Chittenden County. It fixed a stretch of highway riddled with potholes, cracks and loose pavement. The work included widening the Williston off-ramp from two to three lanes, which is expected to solve the problem of traffic backing up to the traveled portion of I-89.
The remainder of the work is supposed to be completed by Oct. 15, but Pologruto said the contractor would not have the job finished by then. Unlike the first part of the project, there is no set penalty for missing the deadline. The state could seek what are called “liquidated damages,” he said, but it would first take into account rain days, equipment failures and other factors that delayed the work.
Still, Pologruto said, the state wants the work finished before winter weather intervenes.
“As far as the construction completion date goes, they are not going to be allowed to just blow by that,” Pologruto said.
One Williston motorist said the major traffic disruptions that often mark major road construction projects were notably absent on I-89.
“It went pretty smoothly,” said Phyllis Etienne. “I didn’t have any problems.
“Take Route 7 if you want problems,” she added, referring to the ongoing construction project on that road that has slowed traffic for the past few years.
Town has many recreational needs, but how to pay for them?
By Greg Elias and Tom Gresham
When the Planning Commission studied Williston’s recreational needs earlier this year, it did not debate for long. It was easy to make a list — a swimming pool, an indoor skating rink, more playing fields and parks, teen and senior centers — and no need to argue about it.
However, the Planning Commission did not wade into the deep end of municipal recreation matters — funding and location. Sometime in the undefined future, town officials will have to determine which recreational facilities to financially back and where to put them.
“That’s the hard part: figuring out how we’re going to do this,” said Town Planner Lee Nellis.
A draft of the updated Comprehensive Plan for Williston identifies a long list of recreation needs that will become critical shortfalls if they are not developed in town in five years. It includes: two multi-use fields, one full-sized baseball diamond, one Little League/softball diamond, one basketball court, one picnic shelter, one gymnasium, one ice skating arena, one indoor swimming pool, one teen center, one senior center, one preschool center, a skate park and a dog park.
It’s a daunting list, and it seems apparent the town will at best add only a fraction of the facilities by 2010. The list is based in part on national and state guidelines for recreational facilities based on population. Nellis said the town uses the state and national guidelines for information but not as a standard.
Based on the guidelines, the town is lagging behind in several areas. So the question now facing Williston is not whether the town could use the facilities — it’s how to prioritize and pay for them.
On the bright side, the town meets the standards for multi-purpose paths, tennis courts, baseball diamonds and picnic sites.
“We’re doing pretty well overall,” said Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Finnegan. “There are some places where we could improve, but we’re getting there.”
Some residents, however, think the town needs more — and sooner rather than later. Those interviewed mentioned the dearth of indoor facilities, such as gathering places for seniors and teens and play spaces for hockey, swimming and other sports
“At this point, in order to have a strong community, I really feel strongly that we need a multi-use center,” said Tianna Tomasi, a teenager who is the youngest member of the Williston Recreation Committee. “It would give people a central gathering place.” She said such a facility could serve as a gathering place for teens and seniors as well as providing a venue for indoor sports.
John Donnelly, who coaches Williston Central School’s basketball team, said existing indoor spaces like the school’s gym are stretched thin. He said one league could only get space in the gym by starting play at 6:45 a.m. He also felt the town should build an indoor facility.
“I think with a town with a population of 8,200 should have an indoor recreation facility where you can swim or play hockey,” he said.
Tim O’Brien, a member of the Recreation Committee and president of the Williston Little League, said the town is filled with residents who have active lifestyles, leading to a strong demand for facilities.
His children have taken swimming lessons at the municipal pool in Essex Junction. He said if Williston had a pool of its own, it would improve a Red Cross lifeguard program now offered at Lake Iroquois. But on the other hand, he said, “it’s no big deal” to drive the few miles to a neighboring town.
Though Williston appears to have many outdoor facilities, O’Brien said the town has no full-sized baseball field. But he thinks the town should be cautious about spending big bucks for new buildings or fields.
“You have to survey the town and see if there is an interest while you look at costs and return on your investment, he said. “You really have to take baby steps.”
The high cost of fun
Indoor pools and skating rinks cost millions of dollars, so construction of such facilities add significantly to the property tax burden.
About a penny is added to Williston’s tax rate for every $1 million in bond debt, said Susan Lamb, the town’s finance director. A $10 million dollar facility would cost the owner of a $250,000 house about $250 a year.
But Donnelly points out that even the most expensive municipal facility costs far less than a family membership in a private health club.
Selectboard Chairwoman Ginny Lyons doubts the public would support another big-ticket item on the heels of the $6.8 million public safety facility voters approved earlier this year. She notes the town has millions of dollars in other outstanding debts to pay off.
“What you have to look at is what kind of burden taxpayers can carry,” Lyons said. “I don’t think we’ll be putting another bond up to vote this year or even the year after.”
The town has to be wary of accumulating too much debt, said Lamb. State guidelines set limits on the amount of bond debt towns can carry at any one time. In addition to the public safety facility, the town is still paying off bonds for sidewalks, fire trucks and a library addition.
Lyons suggested the town could make paying for an expensive facility easier with a public-private partnership. For example, one potential location for an indoor facility with a skating rink is Catamount Family Center. Nellis said the town and Catamount might strike an agreement that gives Williston residents free or discounted access to the facility.
Jim McCullough, whose family owns Catamount, said there had been little talk between Catamount and the town about a collaboration, adding that such an arrangement is “all a lot of high speculation at this point.” But he also thinks an indoor recreational facility is a glaring need in Williston.
“This is something that could happen at Catamount, but we don’t know that it will and we’re not promoting to the public that it’s going to happen,” he said. “But (an indoor recreational facility) is certainly one of the needs Williston has.”
Beyond an indoor facility, McCullough said he believed there were some other potential areas where Catamount could help the town.
“Some of the things the town needs could be solved with a partnership with Catamount, and some might not work out,” McCullough said. “We do hope that Catamount will be an integral part of fulfilling Williston’s future recreational needs.”
New fields on horizon
Though indoor facilities seem first on residents’ wish lists, the town also falls short of the national standards for outdoor facilities.
Nellis notes that the town has a number of subdivisions like Indian Ridge and Lefebvre Lane that include open spaces that serve as community parks. He said the town hopes to ensure that future subdivisions also incorporate recreational space. For instance, plans for the massive multi-use development proposed for the former Pecor horse farm feature several neighborhood parks.
Currently, the town has no concrete plans to add to outdoor recreation facilities aside from the ongoing expansion of the multi-use paths. But it does have land.
Nellis said that could help the town move relatively quickly on developing new fields or parks.
“We’re lucky to already have the land base for some of these needs,” he said. “We don’t have to worry so much about going to find another parcel. We’re in good shape there.”
The central site for future recreational fields is the 107-acre former Mahan Farm property, which was given to the town by the original developers of Maple Tree Place. A 25-acre parcel behind the Allen Brook School has been targeted for sports fields, according to Finnegan.
Finnegan said the town capital plan projects having the fields ready by 2008. The facilities would include two baseball diamonds and “as many multi-use fields as we could squeeze in there,” Finnegan said.
The fields would likely have to obtain an Act 250 permit, as well as to receive approval from the town’s Development Review Board. There is also some remaining property at the Community Park behind Williston Central School that could potentially be used for fields.
Indoor facilities, however, present a thornier problem. Nellis said the addition of a big-ticket item like an indoor pool or skating rink will take years.
“We’re not likely to see an indoor facility in Williston anytime soon,” Nellis said. “It’s expensive and takes a long time to build one.”
Though the cost might seem high, Tomasi said an indoor facility would bring priceless benefits to the community.
“In light of all the factors, it would benefit everyone — parents and their kids,” she said. “We have a great community now. “It would make the community so much stronger if we had one.”
The Williston Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed Comprehensive Plan on Tuesday, Nov. 1 at 7:30 p.m. The meeting takes place in the meeting room at Town Hall. Those who can’t attend can submit written comments to Town Planner Lee Nellis at [email protected] or send them addressed to Nellis at 7900 Williston Road, Williston, Vt. 05495.