July 31, 2014

BREAKING NEWS: Opponents of the Vermont Gas pipeline staged a sit-in protest at the Williston staging area Wednesday morning, attempting to stop work on the pipeline extension project. Look for the story in tomorrow’s Observer.

Youthful group advocates for teen center in Williston

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Members say stressed-out kids need a place to relax

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Williston youths have banded together to push for a teen center that would provide space they can call their own.

A group of eight to nine teenagers has been meeting weekly since early December. Members say that while there are plenty of school-based organized activities, there is no place where they can just relax and hang out with kids their age.

“It’s kind of a no-brainer,” said Tianna Tomasi, 17, who founded the group and is the youngest member of the town’s Recreation Committee. “Kids don’t have any place to go at this point.”

Other group members said options are limited for those who don’t play sports and aren’t interested in other organized events.

Even for athletes, “sports are not 24-7,” said group member Jonathan Bateman, a sophomore at Champlain Valley Union High School who plays soccer and basketball. “During the down time, we’d like something else to do.”

The idea of having a teen center in Williston has been mentioned sporadically for many years, town officials said. They suggested a concerted effort by the group could move the idea toward reality.

“If the kids come to us with what seems like a legitimate proposal for a teen center, then we’ll do what we can to accommodate them,” said Selectboard Chairwoman Ginny Lyons.

Last year the Old Brick Church hosted what could be considered an ad-hoc teen center. Ellie Beckett organized what was dubbed the Teen Lounge in the church’s basement. But the monthly event was discontinued because of a lack of interest and because no one was willing to take over organizing the event.

Beckett, now a CVU freshman, said the coffeehouse-style setup had limited appeal. She said a full-fledged teen center that offered more activities would be a better draw.

Tomasi said the group is still in the idea-gathering stage and so has yet to settle on specifics. Group members said the center could include a skate park, ping-pong tables, arcade games and a computer lab.

Also still to be decided is the location. The Selectboard last week appeared to rule out one possibility the group had discussed, the town-owned building housing Sweet Pea Gifts in Williston Village. The board, which did not mention using the facility as a teen center, voted to temporarily move Williston Fire Department offices to the location while the new public safety buildings are constructed.
Lyons noted that voters directed the town years ago to demolish the building to free up space on the town green. She said the building was “just not the ideal place” for a teen center.

Tomasi said she was undaunted by the board’s decision.

“It could be disappointing,” she said. “It depends on how you look at it. But I think it buys us time to get organized.”

She realizes the group faces a hurdle in finding space in an existing building or funding a new facility. “We wish big, but what it all comes down to in the end is money,” she said, adding that the group is looking at grants as an alternative to taxpayer funding.

Tomasi plans in coming weeks to survey students and parents to gauge support for a teen center and to gather opinions. The group will also visit the teen center in Essex this Thursday. She hopes to present a formal proposal to the Recreation Committee within the next four to six months.

Group member Ditra Backup, an eighth-grader at Williston Central School, said a teen center would provide respite from the hectic lives that kids lead these days.

“Everything is so scheduled, between extracurricular activities and school,” she said. “We need a place where we can just be kids.”

Youths interested in joining the teen center group or expressing their opinions about the idea are encouraged to call Tomasi at 878-4765.

[Read more...]

Williston woman gears up for GospelFest

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By Kim Howard
Observer staff

After attending GospelFest once, Cathie Goodheart became a gospel music convert.

“You just wanted to get up and dance and sing,” Goodheart said. “I just remember the enthusiastic crowd and the high energy of the singers on stage and I don’t know – it just drew me in.” The Williston resident said that night in 2002, she’d wanted to be on stage, too.

This Sunday will mark Goodheart’s fourth time on the Flynn Center stage with GospelFest, an annual performance in Burlington honoring Black History Month. In its sixteenth year, the two-hour event is presented by the New Alpha Missionary Baptist Church. That church’s adult gospel and children’s choir and the Burlington Ecumenical Gospel Choir, of which Goodheart is a member, perform. This year members of the Plattsburgh State Gospel Choir will join them.

“It’s great for kids, too, because there’s a children’s choir,” Goodheart said, adding that her three- and four-year-old grandchildren went last year. “They loved it. They were dancing in the aisles.”

GospelFest began in 1990 as part of Black History Month celebrations at the University of Vermont, according to Wanda Heading-Grant, who has been involved with GospelFest for 15 years.

Reverend Rodney Patterson, a UVM administrator, and a few other s passionate about gospel music were behind the event’s startup, Heading-Grant said. They “felt like ( Burlington) was an area where you just didn’t hear spirituals and jubilees – not on Christian radio stations, not at other events and venues,” she said. “We felt like there was an audience.”

And there was. About a decade ago, audiences were in the 500-range; last year the audience was over 1,300, Heading-Grant said. Interest in performing also has grown. In GospelFest’s first year, there were about 25 performers, Heading-Grant said. Now, the Burlington Ecumenical Gospel Choir includes about 130 singers and the children’s choir has 22 singers.

The Burlington Ecumenical Gospel Choir comes together only to perform in GospelFest each year and is open to everyone. Members are from many religious denominations; some have no religious affiliation. The racial backgrounds of its members also vary.

Nationally there also has been rising interest in secular and religious gospel. Gospel music sales in the United States increased more than 80 percent between 1995 and 2004, according to the Gospel Music Association’s Web site. Music sales at non-Christian outlets doubled in that period, according to the association.

Goodheart said she’d had very little exposure to gospel music prior to attending GospelFest. And, she admits, she wasn’t much of a singer.

“I’m a shower singer,” Goodheart said. “When I found out you didn’t have to try out, I was relieved.”

Goodheart said rehearsals of the Burlington Ecumenical Gospel Choir – four times a month since early November – are an “accepting place,” not just for those of different singing abilities.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for folks to come together with others from different backgrounds, and to appreciate Black History Month,” Goodheart said.

That appreciation includes an understanding of the origins of gospel music itself, Heading-Grant said. Black gospel music traces part of its origins from songs sung by slaves, and later from free but segregated blacks, as quiet protest; the genre’s roots also come from call-and-repond interactions between church preachers and congregants, according to several online encyclopedias. The Civil Rights Movement took a number of its protest songs from the gospel tradition.

“GospelFest is exactly what it’s supposed to be,” Heading-Grant said. “A time to come together, to honor and praise and worship our forefathers as well as to dance and sort of give testimony among all of those things, and hopefully impact another generation.”

The event is also testimony to how a few people can reach many.

“This little church in Burlington – a small congregation – has brought this event to this community for almost 16 years,” Heading-Grant said, referring to New Alpha Missionary Baptist Church that has 40 to 50 active members. “It’s just little old us.”

Each year the event just breaks even financially.

“We’re not some big franchise,” Heading-Grant said. “The only way we can continue to do it is from the support of the extended larger community when they come out to support us.”

[Read more...]

Town cracks down on Pinecrest Village

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Overgrown emergency road unsafe, officials say

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Nearly four years after labeling it an “egregious safety hazard,” the town of Williston has ordered Pinecrest Village to fix its emergency access road.

Zoning Administrator D.K. Johnston issued a zoning violation notice on Feb. 7 requiring the subdivision to clear brush and lay gravel, which could cost the homeowners association more than $10,000. If the problems are not corrected by the end of April, the 81-condiminium development faces a $100-a-day fine.

Town officials said that safety is the paramount concern. Fire Chief Ken Morton said fire trucks would not be able to reach a blaze if the main road is blocked. And he said a second access is especially important in Pinecrest Village because it gives firefighters another angle of attack in the densely packed development.

“In this case, when you have a fire in one unit, it could be not just one building burning, it could be three buildings burning,” Morton said. “In the final analysis, it’s for their own protection.”

Pinecrest Village representatives, while conceding that the emergency road was overgrown, dispute the need to lay new gravel, which could cost thousands of dollars.

“We have no problem with bringing it up to code,” said Valerie Guilmette, president of the Pinecrest Village Association. “But I can’t see us redoing the whole road.”

The association moved quickly following the violation notice, immediately hiring contractors to clear brush blocking the road. Lorayne Lapin, a member of the Pinecrest Village Association’s board, said a fire truck can now navigate the road. “I don’t think there is a safety concern at all,” she said.

The crackdown comes almost four years after Williston’s former zoning administrator issued an informal warning that the development was violating a rule that requires subdivisions with 50 or more units to have two means of access.

“The gross lack of maintenance of the emergency access road appears to be a violation of the project’s subdivision approval as well as an egregious safety hazard,” wrote Scott Gustin in a July 2002 letter to Marian Servidio, Pinecrest Village’s property manager.

That letter came amid a flurry of correspondence between Gustin and Morton, who originally complained the overgrown road was a safety hazard.

In 2003, Morton again wrote to Gustin, saying that though some brush had been cleared, the emergency road was still not wide enough for a fire truck. Gustin then issued a second warning.

“Another year has passed, and again, the emergency access road to Pinecrest Village has not been maintained,” he wrote. “Not once was it plowed over the winter and no vegetation has been cut or cleared all summer.”

But two months later, Morton sent another memo to Gustin suggesting the town had higher priorities.

“After a discussion with my assistant chief we have decided not to involve any more of your time in resolving this matter,” Morton wrote, adding that “there are too many other more important matters.”

Morton, while acknowledging a lack of follow-through, said at the time the town had a smaller staff and was coping with Williston’s rapid development. “There were so many problems,” he said. “You kind of have to pick your battles.”

The warning letter in 2003 apparently ended the town’s enforcement efforts until the emergency access issue was raised during last month’s hearing on a new development next to Pinecrest Village.

Former Selectman Herb Goodrich sought approval for a 14-unit senior housing project. The Development Review Board rejected the plan because it did not include an emergency access. The board reasoned that because the project would share Pinecrest Village’s main access road, it was subject to the emergency road requirement.

But after the vote the board learned that Pinecrest Village did in fact have a second access – the very road that the town now says fails to meet standards. The board has since decided to reconsider its vote on the project.

Meanwhile, Pinecrest Village representatives are scrambling to correct problems with the access road while disputing some of the town’s requirements.

Based on an inspection of the road early this month, the town found seven problems that needed to be corrected. They include blocked access to both ends of the road, gardens planted in the 15-foot-wide right of way and grass instead of gravel covering the road.

Johnston wants those problems corrected by April 30. He has warned Pinecrest Village that it faces fines of up to $100 a day if the issues are not fixed by the deadline.
Johnston also said he will refuse to issue zoning certificates of compliance – paperwork that is often required when homes are sold or refinanced – until the requirements are met. And he ordered Pinecrest Village to submit a plan within seven days for correcting the problems.

Servidio responded with a plan for fixing most of the problems. But she wrote that changing the grass-covered road to gravel “would not be acceptable to homeowners.” She asserted the road never had a gravel surface in the first place and noted an engineer certified that the road met town requirements when the development was completed in 1995.

Johnston responded that the plan was not acceptable because it failed to include provisions for periodic maintenance and snow plowing. He said the town’s original approval required a gravel surface while noting the engineer’s inspection did not include the access road.

Converting the grassy road to gravel could be expensive for Pinecrest Village, Guilmette said. She estimated it will cost about $3,000 to correct the other problems; laying gravel could add $10,000 to the tab.

The homeowners association has enough in its reserve fund to cover the cost in either case, Guilmette said. Replenishing the reserve is more problematic. She said homeowners on average already pay $180 a month in association fees.

Johnston said in an interview that he is aware of the financial consequences of his enforcement. “It’s not fun,” he said.

Johnston declined to assess how his predecessor handled the issue. Then he asked and answered his own question.

“Would I have taken a different or stronger action?” he said. “I just have.”

[Read more...]

State grocery champ looks to bag national title

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By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

As the Olympics kick off in Torino, Italy, this week, another highly competitive yet largely overlooked competition is taking place in Las Vegas: The National Best Bagger Contest. And this year, Williston has a contender.

In September, 20-year-old Ethan Abar of Williston beat out eight other competitors from Vermont in the Vermont Grocer’s Association bagging contest at the Champlain Valley Exposition. He had to fill two paper bags with the same grocery store items and scored best on time, attitude and weight distribution. Abar has worked at Shaw’s in Williston for four years and is a junior at Champlain College.

Abar said he has not been training too hard for the contest, but last Saturday a Shaw’s corporate employee was on hand to offer coaching tips while Abar bagged.

“I don’t want to get too worked up about it,” Abar said. “I’m trying to stay somewhat cool and level-headed about it.”

As the state bagging champion, Abar and a guest (best friend Chrissy Smith) are being sponsored by the Vermont Grocer’s Association to go to the National Grocers’ Association convention in Las Vegas. Abar said his parents were also joining him and the Vermont Grocer’s delegation.

Donna Hogan, director of communication and events for the association, said the organization is rooting for Abar.

“We hope he’s going to place well,” Hogan said. “ Vermont in the past has really done well.”

Vermont first began featuring the bagging contest in 1988 as part of their annual fall convention and expo, Hogan said. The competition is designed to promote the importance of "front end personnel” in grocery stores, she said.

The Vermont Grocers' Association is a nonprofit group of merchants, retailers and suppliers involved n the food industry. It was founded in 1934 and represents approximately 680 retail stores and 250 suppliers from across the state, Hogan said.

Abar, an accounting major, said he wasn’t sure he would go into the grocery industry, but he wouldn’t rule it out, either.

“Right now, for the moment it works for me,” he said.

This year marks the 20 th year for the national contest, part of the annual National Grocer’s Association convention, which runs Feb. 7-10. The winner receives a bag-shaped trophy and a check for $2,000. Last year’s winner was Emily Jensen, representing the Utah grocery store, Macey's.

In past years, winners have appeared on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” but Hogan was unsure if that was the case this year.

The competition takes place from 3:30-5 p.m. on Feb. 9.

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Snowplows stay busy despite mild winter

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Salt usage, labor costs running ahead of budget

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

A little snow, followed by men in big trucks.

That’s been the story in Williston this year. At the midpoint of a relatively mild winter, the town has used up much of its budget for salt and sand and logged considerable overtime for plowing.

As of last week, the town had spent roughly two-thirds of its annual budget for road salt, according to Public Works Director Neil Boyden. The town has rolled out plow trucks 30 times.

“There’s been lots of rain and half-inch snowstorms,” Boyden said. “It’s been right up there, but there’s nothing on the ground to show for it.”

The reason? Small but frequent snowfalls, combined with sleet, freezing rain and above-average temperatures. Snow showers can require just as much plowing and salt as big storms, Boyden said.

The National Weather Service had recorded 43.9 inches of snow as of Jan. 27, an inch above normal for that time of year. Mother Nature, however, has doled out the snow in small doses.

“It’s kind of been nickels and dimes, but it’s not below average for the season,” said Maureen Breitbach of the National Weather Service office in South Burlington.

Meanwhile, the temperature, at least for January, has been running well above normal. The average temperature last month was 27.8 degrees, more than 9 degrees above average. Breitbach said that made it the sixth-warmest January since the National Weather Service began keeping records in 1884.

The weather pattern has added up to many freeze-and-thaw cycles, meaning frequent plowing and heavy salt usage to keep roads clear. Boyden said lots of snow showers can cost as much or more to clear as a few big storms. The timing is also important. Snow at night, for example, can mean overtime for drivers.

In fact, labor costs are also high so far this year, with Boyden estimating that the town has used 55-60 percent of its overtime budget for plowing.

The town typically uses 2,000 tons of salt and 1,000 tons of sand each winter. For salt alone, $80,000 has been budgeted for this year. The town plans on spending $433,000 for plowing, which covers the truck drivers’ pay; salt and sand; fuel; and maintenance.

Williston has a fleet of seven full-size plow trucks. They are supplemented by a contractor that plows smaller, narrower streets where big trucks are difficult to maneuver. In all, the town has about 72 miles of paved and unpaved roads.

The amount of plowing required during any given period varies widely from year to year. At the end of January last year, the town had used up 74 percent of its salt budget. The year before, it was only 40 percent.

Things tend to even out over the course of a long winter, Boyden said. But if spring comes and the town has exceeded its road-clearing budget for the year, it must cut back elsewhere.

“We can’t spend more than the voters approved,” Boyden said.

[Read more...]

Selectboard adopts Town Plan

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By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

After months of discussion and a two-week-long public hearing, the Selectboard on Monday finally adopted the Comprehensive Plan of Development for the town of Williston. The plan, which is revised every five years, provides a blueprint for the development of the town.

Several residents attended the hearing Monday, which had been recessed at the previous meeting two weeks ago to give Town Planner Lee Nellis time to respond to residents’ concerns.

Most of the concerns voiced were in regards to a proposed bike path on North Williston Road. However, the concern was over the path’s placement and width, neither of which is specifically laid out in the plan. Residents will have a chance to discuss the plans with town officials when a specific plan is proposed for the path, Nellis said.

The Selectboard voted unanimously to approve the plan, although Selectman Jeff Fehrs voiced his concerns about certain sections. Fehrs worried that giving developers at Taft Corners “flexibility and intensity” as stated in the plan, could have “negative consequences.” But ultimately he accepted the plan.

“Although I have some concerns, I can vote for the town plan to adopt it,” Fehrs said.

Park and Ride alternatives proposed

Representatives from the state Agency of Transportation and an engineering consulting firm presented to the board a list of potential sites for a proposed Park and Ride facility in Williston.

Greg Edwards of Dufresne-Henry and Wayne Davis of Vtrans told the board they had identified and researched nine properties as possible sites for the Park and Ride, where commuters could park and carpool or catch a bus.

The team rated the sites based on economic considerations, location criteria and site considerations. The site that scored highest was a piece of property across from Hurricane Lane, off Vermont Route 2A south of Interstate 89. Nellis had some concerns about the site, which is owned by Raymond Ramsey of York Beach, Maine, because use of that site would require extensive grading, stormwater installations and also a re-zoning of the area. Nellis said in an e-mail that the site lies in the town’s Ridgeline/ Wooded Hillside Protection Zoning Overlay District. This zoning district was designed to protect the visual character of the town, and so under the current regulations only 1/2 acre of space may be cleared, not enough for the 120-lot Park-and-Ride proposed by the state. However, Nellis said the area could be re-zoned to allow the facility, and Davis noted that under state statutes the Park-and-Ride might be exempt from town zoning laws anyway.

Other possible sites are a piece of property off Hurricane Lane owned by Bill Dunn; and the site of the State Police Barracks, which may be moved in the next few years.

Planning Commission Chairwoman Judy Sassarossi expressed concern for the safety of women going to their cars after dark if the parking area were located south of the Interstate.

Meredith Burkett of the Chittenden County Transportation Authority said the public transit organization would support the Park-and-Ride.

“We would love to see one built in Williston,” Burkett said. “To the extent possible we would make adjustments to serve (the Park-and-Ride).”

The board will discuss the alternatives and is scheduled to meet again with Davis and Edwards on Feb. 27.

Local Option Tax revenue Task Force

The board also heard from the Local Option Tax Revenue Task Force, which delivered its final report Monday. The task force was charged with researching alternatives to the 1 percent local option sales tax on rooms, meals and alcoholic beverages. The tax is currently scheduled to expire in 2008.

The tax was adopted at town meeting in 2003, and was designed to augment property taxes. The task force’s report states that municipal services to businesses in Williston cost more than the businesses generate in property tax, so without the 1 percent tax, property taxes would rise.

The group recommended that Williston should try to make the local option tax permanent. Barring that, the task force said the next best alternative is a tax classification system to equalize the tax burden among residents and businesses. Other alternatives are increased user fees for services, additional impact fees, and forming tax increment finance districts.

The board will consider the options and will likely schedule public hearings on the matter in the future.

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Search for day care requires planning

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By Kim Howard
Observer staff

It’s a bit like the college admissions process. There are a number of options; research is required to find the right place; and once you find it, it costs a pretty penny.

While many parents of high school students expect to travel this road with their teens, few new and soon-to-be parents realize a similar journey is in store for them as they search for day care.

Parents “should be attempting to arrange for infant care as soon as they know they are pregnant,” advises Elizabeth Meyer, executive director of Child Care Resource, a Williston-based nonprofit. “ Infant care is always difficult to find, and particularly in Williston.”

Meyer should know. Her organization maintains a comprehensive database of nearly 400 Chittenden County childcare programs – centers and homes; accredited and not. The nonprofit helps hundreds of families find childcare and determine how to pay for it.

Currently Williston has seven openings for infants and toddlers in childcare centers, but only one of those slots is at an accredited facility, which often denotes higher quality, Meyer said.

Though there are more options for three- and four-year-olds, Meyer said, “ if you want the program that meets your needs in particular, it’s a good idea to get on the list six months ahead of time.”

Needs do vary from family to family.

“As an IBM employee, one of the biggest challenges is the 12-hour schedule,” said Williston resident Laura McClure, who works at IBM and is on the board of directors for Child Care Resource. “There are employees at IBM that struggle with it because you work 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.” and it’s difficult to find daycare programs that accommodate those hours.

Without childcare, parents of young children cannot go to work, Meyer said. Businesses realize that and use the nonprofit’s resources for employees, too.

IBM went a step further, according to McClure, when it gave a grant to Child Care Resource so that it could buy a private Williston daycare center that was planning to close.

“They recognized that there are a limited number of slots for daycare and wanted to make sure that daycare didn’t go out of business,” McClure said. Child Care Resource operates the daycare at the Williston Federated Church.

State law now requires towns to incorporate daycare into town planning in part because of the connection to economic development. The new Williston town plan incorporates day care into its vision by promising “its planning and development review process do not place unreasonable limitations on child care facilities.” According to the town plan, efforts include changing bylaws to allow home childcare in residential zoning districts and plans to revise bylaws “to make it clear that child care is a permitted accessory use” in schools, churches and places of employment.

Child Care Resource information indicates there are 15 licensed childcare centers and eight registered family childcare homes in Williston, and that an estimated 45 percent of the slots are filled by Williston children. It is unknown how many Williston children are in daycare facilities outside of town, though an estimated 70 to 80 percent of Williston families have all parents in the workforce, based on the organization’s interpretation of 2000 census data.

Meyer said that the financial burden of childcare also is significant for most families. Estimates from a little over a year ago indicate that facilities with a four-to-one child-teacher ratio cost about $8,840 a year – more than a semester’s worth of tuition at a Vermont state college.

Meyer said some families are eligible for state assistance, though she warns that policymakers need to bring the eligibility scale up to date as it is based on 1999 salary data.

“Families are making more than scale says, but they really need childcare subsidies,” Meyer said. With or without subsidies, childcare is “a great financial burden for families.”

For more information
Child Care Resource
863-3367
www.childcareresource.org

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Schools feel the heat of rising fuel costs

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CVU, Allen Brook employ energy-saving methods

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

It’s a homeowner’s dream: Chopping 36 percent off the home heating bill, or cutting electricity use by 21 percent.

For two local schools, that dream is a reality due to some dramatic changes in the way they do business.

As talk escalates at the state level about the increasing costs of education, Champlain Valley Union High School (CVU) and Allen Brook elementary school have been making changes that not only are good for the pocketbook, but also are good for the environment.

At CVU this year, instead of spending $4,000 a week for oil to fuel the school’s boiler during cold weather, they’re spending $650 for wood chips. A new wood chip-fueled boiler, installed as part of the school’s recent renovations, has been in operation since late October – enough time for administrators to feel comfortable reducing next year’s fuel budget from $110,000 to $70,000, according to CVU Principal Sean McMannon.

“My hope is we’ll be able to reduce it even more the following year,” McMannon said, noting they’re still learning the ins and outs of the system.

CVU is one of about 25 Vermont schools burning wood chips for heat, with another four or five scheduled to start construction this summer, according to Norm Etkind, director of the School Energy Management Program for the Vermont Superintendents Association.

Cathy Hilgendorf, who administers the Vermont Department of Education school construction aid fund, said in an e-mail those numbers suggest that wood chip heat for schools is a big success story in Vermont.

The state school construction aid fund pays up to 90 percent of eligible costs of renewable energy projects; it paid just under $600,000 of the total $665,620 required to install the CVU system, according to Bob Mason, chief operations officer for Chittenden South Supervisory Union.

There are multiple benefits of automated wood chip burners, according to the School Energy Management Program: Wood chips are a renewable source of energy; and because chips are supplied locally – by A. Johnson Lumber in Bristol, in CVU’s case – the money to purchase them stays local.

And, say CVU maintenance staff, the system is incredibly efficient. After burning 20 tons of wood chips – about a week’s supply – they are left with only a 20-gallon bucket of ashes, said Kurt Proulx director of maintenance. The efficient burning means that carbon dioxide emissions – which contribute to global warming – are virtually nonexistent, according to groundskeeper Norm Tourville. The steam that can be seen rising from the CVU smokestack is just that – steam, not smoke, because the wood chips are still wet.

Though the savings are not as dramatic, electricity consumption at Allen Brook School has taken a dive. A 21 percent electricity reduction over the last 19 months has allowed school administrators to reduce next year’s electricity budget by $9,500.

“Most people in schools, when they think about saving energy or electricity, think about replacing equipment – buying new lights, buying more efficient computers, buying a new boiler,” said Paul Grover, president of Shelburne-based Kilawatt Partners, which administrators hired after hearing of the company’s success with Shelburne Community School. “The interesting thing about Allen Brook School is in order to achieve those savings, they spent zero money on equipment.”

Instead of “throwing money” at the challenge of electricity consumption, Kilawatt Partners is “throwing brain power,” said Grover. Williston School District pays the company 60 percent of its savings during its two-year contract, which expires in May, to help them learn strategies. All savings beyond May – an estimated $12,000 a year, according to Principal John Terko – will be retained by the school.

Changes to the school’s computerized energy management system are responsible for three-quarters of the savings, Grover said. Often, he said, computerized systems produce waste because staff members don’t know how to maximize their use. Small adjustments on timing of air handlers, heat and air conditioning result in big savings. About a quarter of the savings ABS has realized, Grover indicated, is a result of behavioral changes – turning off computers and lights when not in use, and removing bulbs in over-lit areas.

“We really weren’t aware of it,” Terko said of the opportunities for such savings. “I think we learned a lot through the process. … I think it’s a good education for kids, too, to be aware of conserving energy in the future.”

Some of what has been learned at Allen Brook is being implemented at Williston Central School, said District Principal Walter Nardelli. Yet, Grover emphasized, savings there may not be as easy to come by; Grover said he does not recall over-lit areas, and the operating systems are managed by easily understandable time clocks, not computers.

“My feeling at the time was that Central needed equipment upgrades more than the service that we offered,” said Grover.

 

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School trailers: 4 more years

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Bus loading area redesigned

The temporary buildings at Allen Brook School will be around for at least another four years.

After nine months of discussion, the Development Review Board on Tuesday night approved a four-year permit for the double-wide trailers at Allen Brook School, with the stipulation that school officials present a long-term plan for the site to the DRB two years from now.

A re-design of a potentially dangerous bus loading area also is in the works in response to concerns expressed by the DRB. An unconventional bus driveway required that some kids had to walk in between buses to load them. A state official last fall said that such a system was “ill advised” and “not a safe practice.” The school ended that practice in November.

The new bus loading area, to be constructed this summer, will allow all students to load directly from a curbed sidewalk. The construction of a new sidewalk and paving of the bus loop area, an estimated $50,000, was approved by the School Board last week.

Since the end of September, the school’s temporary buildings have been in violation of a town zoning ordinance. Prior to their construction in 2002, the Development Review Board granted the temporary buildings a permit on condition they be removed after three years and the site returned to its original state.

“We passed temporary buildings three years ago,” Kevin McDermott, DRB chairman, said by phone after the meeting. “They were approved as temporary. We don’t want to pass temporary buildings ad infinitum; then they are no longer temporary. What we’re looking at it is, what is your real plan?”

The Williston School Board originally assured the public the double-wide trailers would be in place only three years while the board assessed enrollment trends and more permanent options. The new four-year permit – which does not take effect until after the DRB minutes are approved at its next meeting March 14 – means the trailers will be in place for a total of at least seven and a half years.

The temporary buildings have generated controversy from the beginning. Parents expressed concern over studies that showed materials in newly built trailers emitted toxic vapors. Exhaust fumes from nearby school buses were also a worry. Air quality testing later showed no cause for concern, according to Bob Mason, chief operations officer for Chittenden South Supervisory Union. CSSU helps administer schools in Williston and other area towns.

Growing student enrollment in Williston led Allen Brook School to install the temporary buildings, which accommodate about 80 students, for more classroom space until the School Board 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 36 students to its roster, the district saw a slight drop in enrollment over the last two years. Earlier this year, enrollment showed a drop of about 36 students. School officials said it wasn’t prudent to move forward with earlier plans to permanently expand the size of the school given that reversal of enrollment trends.

Mason said he is comfortable with the condition that the School Board returns in two years with a long-term plan. The board should regularly share its long-term plans with the town and with town committees, he said. “I think that’s a reasonable request by the town.”

The long-term plan required by the DRB in 2008 is just one of 18 conditions imposed with the permit approval. Other conditions include new lighting outside the school and motion-sensor operated lights after hours. Parking will be eliminated and grass planted in an unpermitted gravel parking area meant for deliveries. The DRB had expressed concerns that a number of students run through the area before and after school hours.

In June of last year, school officials requested a three-year extension of the temporary building permit, which the DRB denied. The permitting process exists in part for public safety, board Chairman Kevin McDermott had indicated, so a new application was necessary.

“I’ve heard it from the public: ‘you’re being mean to the kids,’” McDermott said in an interview, referring to the protracted discussions. “Almost everything we worried about is the safety of the kids.”

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Rocky looks to boost raffle sales

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Fundraiser for local family ends Sunday

Rocky Leary needs your help. The owner of Rocky’s N.Y. Pizza in Williston is holding a raffle to benefit the children of a local man who died last year of melanoma skin cancer.

“We help a member out once a year in the community,” Leary said. “This year, the Kohlasch family was picked.”

Williston resident Bill Kohlasch, a long-time coach of Far Post Soccer Club, died of melanoma skin cancer in April at age 46. He left behind his wife, Cathy, and three school age children, Kendal; Tucker; and Kaelyn.

The family established an education fund to help the children before Kohlasch died, Leary said.

Leary said the proceeds from the raffle will go entirely toward the children’s fund. Tickets are $5 each, and first prize is a 32-inch LCD wide screen television. Second prize is four one-day learn-to-ski package passes from Smugglers’ Notch.

Sales for the raffle, which ends at 12 noon on Sunday, Feb. 4, have been slow, Leary said. As part of the prize, Leary said he would throw in three large pizzas and a case of 2-liter sodas to provide for a Super Bowl party.

“Please support a great cause and a great family,” Leary said.

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