November 23, 2014

New planner brings world of experience

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By Greg Elias
Observer staff

John Adams traveled halfway around the world to work as a planner. Now he’s returned to his boyhood home-away-from-home to ply his trade.

Adams was recently hired as Williston’s development review planner. The job, which blends clerical and higher-level planning tasks, suits a recent college graduate like Adams, who holds a master’s degree in planning.

Adams, 24, was born in Montreal, but he has roots in Vermont. His father’s side of the family is from Vermont, and Adams spent summers here when he was growing up.

His grandfather for years operated Adams Boots and Shoes on the Church Street Marketplace. While in high school, Adams spent a summer working in the store.

After graduating high school, Adams traveled extensively, living in or visiting Australia, New Zealand and Japan. He also lived in New York City.

Adams later earned a bachelor’s degree from McGill University in Montreal and a graduate degree from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

In 2005, before finishing college, he spent a summer working as a researcher and lecturer in the Chinese Ministry of Land and Resources. He presented his findings about how the government could maintain neighborhood character in the Beijing area, where many residents have been dislocated to make room for booming business growth.

In a written summary of the experience, Adams said that redevelopment was a sensitive issue for the Chinese government, so he “had to be highly aware of every word I used and image I presented.”

Adams said it is hard to draw parallels between his experience in Beijing, a city of 14 million people, to his new job in Williston, population roughly 8,200. Though the town has grown considerably over the past 20 years, Adams said Williston’s changes have been modest compared to those in China.

“The speed of development in the city is just unbelievable,” he said.

But he does seem some similarities, particularly the dearth of affordable housing.

“The problems and issues are similar, although on a different scale,” Adams said.

After earning his graduate degree, Adams began looking for planning positions, especially openings in Vermont. He found the Williston job on the American Planning Association’s Web site.

Town Manager Rick McGuire said there were 22 applicants for the position. He said Adams was the best candidate because he had limited experience but the extensive education the entry level position called for.

Adams replaces David Pesnichak, who left the position to take a job as a senior planner in Colorado. The development review position was created as part of a reorganization of Williston’s Planning and Zoning Department. The reorganization was designed to streamline the department by ensuring each staff member had a professional planning background.

The development review planner provides administrative support for the other planning staffers as well as the Development Review Board, Design Advisory Committee and Historic Preservation Commission. The development review planner also participates in long-range planning projects, such as developing the Comprehensive Plan, and fields queries from the general public and developers.

Adams, who is an avid bicyclist, said he’s thrilled to be back living amid the Green Mountains.

“It’s just fantastic,” he said. “I consider myself lucky to be able to ride through the hills and enjoy the clean environment.”

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Selectboard gets an earful from landfill group

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By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

About 200 people filled the auditorium at Williston Central School for Monday night’s Selectboard meeting to listen to a presentation from a neighborhood group opposed to the anticipated proposal for a regional landfill in Williston.

A line, dozens of people long, formed outside the doors, an impressive sight at a town government meeting that rarely attracts more than one or two people. It was no surprise to the board, however. The meeting, usually held at Town Hall, was moved to the school auditorium in anticipation of the large crowd.

The Chittenden Solid Waste District is still making plans for a proposed regional landfill on Redmond Road. But even though the proposal has not been submitted to the town, residents in several Williston neighborhoods have formed a group, the Williston Neighborhood Coalition, to stop the landfill, which they fear would reduce property values, increase truck traffic and harm the environment.

The proposed landfill would be located on 66 acres of land, currently the location of the Hinesburg Sand and Gravel facility, which does not want to give up the land. In 1992, CSWD initiated eminent domain proceedings for the land, and won the right in court to purchase the property, but the price is still in dispute and the case is currently before the Vermont Supreme Court.

After a couple of housekeeping measures, including a public hearing regarding the town’s proposed ethics ordinance (which drew no comments and passed later in the meeting), the board heard from Coalition President Steve Casale.

Casale’s presentation focused on how the proposed landfill was not needed and would present a host of environmental and economic problems to Williston taxpayers. Casale also asked why the Selectboard did not disclose information about the proposed landfill to potential homeowners after letters from CSWD describing possible impact on those areas were sent to the town. (Casale later corrected himself, saying that a CSWD letter regarding the potential impact on the Ledgewood development was sent to the Selectboard, but the second letter regarding Brennan Woods was sent to the state Act 250 Group, and never received by the Selectboard.)

At the end of the talk, Casale presented the board with a petition signed by more than 600 Williston residents asking the Selectboard to terminate the host town agreement (signed by Williston in 1992) and to oppose the landfill by any legal means necessary.

“This was done in 10 days,” Casale said, referring to the petition. “There’s obviously a lot of concern in the surrounding community from this.”

Selectboard Chairman Terry Macaig emphasized that the board had not received a proposal from the CSWD regarding the landfill. However, he said he anticipated a proposal around the end of the year.

Several audience members spoke out at the meeting, and tensions ran high at some points.

“I’m telling you, if this gets approved, I’m taking my wife and my four-year-old and my one-year-old and I’m moving out of this town,” one resident said.

Many people wanted to know if the Selectboard would support the landfill or if they would help residents fight it. The board repeatedly said it would need to seek legal counsel, and could not respond to most of the questions posed by the irate residents.

“I hope you don’t think that we’re trying to evade questions,” Macaig said. “We don’t know the answer to your questions.”

Before concluding, Casale posed one final question to the board.

“Is it clear that this particular group is very, very incensed by this and we really are going to demand action?” Casale asked.

“The answer is yes,” Macaig responded.

Vaughn Altemus, a resident of Stirrup Circle, said he agreed with the sentiments of the crowd, but was wary of asking the board to make comments prematurely.

“I agree with the position of the people in the room, but we should not be pressing the board to do something it would be irresponsible for them to do,” Altemus said after the meeting. “This is part of the process; let’s let the process work.”

The board said it would seek legal counsel and respond to residents’ concerns in the near future.

Hinesburg Sand and Gravel General Manager Tim Casey and his father, Paul, the owner, were at the meeting Monday.

Paul Casey said the company has spent more than $3 million fighting the CSWD over the land dispute. The Caseys were clear on their position in regard to the landfill.

“Go away. Pay us all the damage you’ve done to us, and go,” Tim Casey said of the CSWD.

Before leaving, Casale spoke to a reporter about his reactions to the meeting. He said he felt the board was receptive to the community’s concerns and responded appropriately in the face of some “rather hostile questions.” Casale was asked if he was happy with his Selectboard.

“Unquestionably,” he said. “And that happiness will either continue to grow, or start to recede, depending upon progress from tonight forward.”

In an interview Wednesday, CSWD General Manager Tom Moreau said the District would discuss the group’s presentation at the CSWD board meeting Wednesday night. He said he and other staff members were reviewing Channel 17’s video recording of the meeting and would take any legitimate concerns to the board.

“We think there were some exaggerations, and some things taken out of context,” Moreau said. “We’ve got to go through it, rather than be kind of reactionary.”

He said some residents’ concerns that had been brought to his attention before Monday’s meeting – such as the effects on home values and water usage – were being integrated into the District’s studies for the landfill proposal.

Moreau said he approached Town Manager Rick McGuire about presenting a response to the Williston Neighborhood Coalition, but said McGuire preferred CSWD make their presentation when they actually have a final proposal for the Selectboard. Moreau said CSWD plans to have a completed proposal in November.

“We’ve got some research to do,” he said.

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Largest-ever subdivision receives approval

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Finney Crossing faces one more round of review

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The gigantic Finney Crossing project won preliminary approval Tuesday with conditions aimed at minimizing its impact on the environment and nearby home owners.

The Development Review Board voted 5-1 to OK the residential and commercial subdivision, allowing it to move on to final review. Board member Cathy O’Brien cast the lone no vote.

“They did not satisfy me that there would not be adverse impacts in several areas,” O’Brien said after the meeting, ticking off concerns such as traffic, wetlands and aesthetics that she felt were not adequately addressed. Though she said the project “still has a lot of merit” she felt the pieces of the complex development don’t fit well together.

Finney Crossing would contain 356 housing units as well as retail and office space. The project would be located on 107 acres of land on the northeast side of Taft Corners.

The developers are Snyder Companies, which will build the homes, and J.L. Davis Inc., which will develop the commercial portion of the project.

If approved, Finney Crossing would be built in phases over the next decade.

Previous public hearings on the project drew dozens of residents who posed questions and expressed concerns about what would be the largest subdivision ever built in Williston. Just a few residents attended Tuesday’s meeting. Housing prices and building heights were among their concerns.

The board attached 20 conditions to its approval. Many of them were standard conditions imposed on all projects. But a handful of the conditions specifically addressed concerns over Finney Crossing’s impact on the environment and nearby homeowners.

Included in the conditions was an unusual requirement that makes town approval contingent on Finney Crossing receiving approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The requirement apparently stemmed from concerns about the project’s affect on wetlands.

O’Brien had at a previous meeting complained that wetland areas at the project’s site had been plowed under without receiving a permit. She asked for detailed plans for dealing with wetlands. When no information was forthcoming at last night’s meeting, she was clearly irked.

“Now you’ve made it simple,” she said. “I asked for more information and I got none.”

Bob Snyder, president of Snyder Companies, said previous work in the wetlands was actually an archeological project by college students. He said the work was in fact previously approved.

Another condition required some taller buildings to be reoriented so they don’t loom over houses at The Hamlet, a subdivision near Vermont 2A that has received town approval but has yet to be built.

Finney Crossing will be unique to Williston, not only because of its sheer size – it contains more than twice as many units as the next largest subdivision in Williston – but because of the project’s unusual configuration.

All but 30 of the units will be multi-family homes. The housing will include condominiums, townhouses and apartments. The project will also include 20 acres of commercial development arranged in two-story buildings, with stores on the ground floor and offices above.

Except for the single-family homes, all the housing will be two-bedroom units. Snyder has said most families are not interested in buying such housing, meaning the project will generate relatively few school-age children for Williston’s crowded schools.

Following the hearing, board members held a closed-door session to discuss Finney Crossing and another project on Tuesday’s agenda. After about 45 minutes, the board emerged and voted on the project.

It is unclear when Finney Crossing will be considered for final approval. D.K. Johnston, the town’s zoning administrator, declined to give a time frame for future reviews.

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Town charter changes proposed

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By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Williston voters next week will get a sneak peek at some items to appear on the town ballot in November.

Proposed changes to the Williston town charter – which would include safeguarding a local option sales tax that generates roughly $2.8 million annually for the town – will be discussed at the first of two public hearings Monday night. The hearing begins at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall.

Members of a town charter revision task force are recommending seven changes to the town’s charter that was first approved by Williston voters in 2003 and by the state Legislature in 2004. Chief among the changes is a provision for a local option sales tax, according to Town Manager Rick McGuire. Should the Legislature repeal the law allowing towns to levy local option taxes, Williston, on the basis of its charter, would still be able to levy the tax, McGuire said.

“Our feeling is we should get it in our charter as quickly as possible while everything is fresh in everyone’s minds, so that if there is a change in state law, the town charter would take over,” McGuire said.

In 2002, Williston voters approved a 1 percent sales tax, and in 2003 Williston voters approved a 1 percent tax on rooms, meals and alcoholic beverages. In 2004, Williston voters reaffirmed their commitment to the 1 percent tax by a hefty margin: 1,938-321. The state law allowing local options taxes was set to end in 2008, but the Legislature this spring decided to allow the option to continue indefinitely. The Legislature also approved a change in Burlington’s town charter allowing the local option tax, similar to what the charter revision task force is proposing.

A memo from Paul Gillies, one of the town’s attorneys, recommends that voters this November be allowed to vote on the proposed charter changes separately – meaning the local option tax provision would be separate from the other six changes proposed.

The other changes proposed, McGuire said, are smaller.

“Any of these other issues would not have prompted us to change the charter,” McGuire said. “But when you’re looking at the big things, it makes sense to look at the little things as you move forward.”

One of those smaller changes would allow the town to impose employment agreements for the town’s fire and police chiefs. The proposed language says that the chiefs shall be appointed by the town manager and employed under a renewable option contract for a term not to exceed five years nor less than one year. An employee not meeting expectations could be dismissed.

McGuire said currently under state law, for example, a police chief has more or less a lifetime appointment. If found not meeting his or her obligations, under state law a chief cannot be fired except in cases of egregious wrongs, McGuire said, making it difficult for town officials to ensure optimal performance of public safety officials.

When asked if this provision was prompted by circumstances involving a current fire or police chief or the police chief who retired earlier this year, McGuire said he would not comment on personnel matters.

Williston Police Chief Jim Dimmick said he told McGuire he was OK with the employment agreements when McGuire spoke with him about the proposals during the hiring process.

“My personal philosophy is that I am here at the will of the town manager and the Selectboard,” Police Chief Jim Dimmick said. “If they said at any point ‘you’re not reflecting our needs or our philosophy in town,’ I would expect they have the right to say ‘please move on to something else.’”

Fire Chief Ken Morton was not available for comment prior to deadline.

The remaining changes proposed to the charter are as follows: eliminate the appointed positions of weigher of coal, fence viewer, and surveyor of wood and lumber – positions McGuire said are anachronistic; eliminate as elected positions the town agent, trustee of public funds and grand juror – positions that are no longer needed or whose duties have been assumed by town employees; change from elected to appointed the Cemetery Commission and Old Brick Church Trustees; clarify who opens town meeting before the moderator is selected; and add the ability for a vote to change the time town meeting starts.

The second required public hearing on the proposed changes is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 9 at Town Hall.

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Boulanger builds a better burger

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By Kim Howard
Observer staff

While some of us are mowing lawns or doing other household chores this Saturday, Williston resident Dick Boulanger will be in California’s Napa Valley trying to win $10,000.

Boulanger and nine others were selected as finalists from nearly 9,000 contestants in the 16th annual Sutter Home Winery Build a Better Burger contest. Boulanger will prepare his recipe for Bouillabaisse Burgers with Tomato-Fennel Relish and Saffron Mayonnaise to compete against four others in the non-beef category of the contest.

“I knew I had to come up with something unique or different otherwise I wouldn’t be picked to go,” Boulanger said.

In 1998, Boulanger’s son, Jason, won the contest’s grand prize with a recipe for Caesar salad and flank steak burgers with garlic crostini.

“Instead of like father like son, this is going to be like son like father,” Boulanger joked.

The cooking contest bug seems to run in the family. Boulanger’s wife, Kathy, has won more than 75 cooking contests.

This is Boulanger’s second national cooking contest effort in the last year. In March, he won a set of new kitchen appliances worth $10,000 for the “most innovative” recipe at the annual national Pillsbury Bake-off contest. That recipe was for sugar cookie chocolate crunch fudge.

Boulanger said competition at the Napa Valley event will be “formidable” because professional chefs can enter the contest. Even if he does not win first prize in his category, he and his wife will have enjoyed a free trip to California with gourmet meals, he said.

Boulanger’s recipe is available on the contest Web site: http://buildabetterburger.sutterhome.com/votes/

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Pinckney named CSSU Superintendent

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By Kim Howard
Observer staff

The Chittenden South Supervisory Union Board of School Directors announced on Monday that Elaine F. Pinckney has been appointed superintendent for the public schools serving the towns of Charlotte, Hinesburg, Shelburne, St. George and Williston. She will begin her duties Nov. 6.

“I’m really looking forward to being back in Chittenden South working with a really quality group of leaders,” Pinckney said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Pinckney, 57, was the Williston School District Leader from 1998-2004 when she was tapped to be the Vermont State Deputy Commissioner of Education, a position she’s been in since leaving Williston schools. A current Williston resident, Pinckney was a principal in Stowe and Morrisville for five years each. Combined with elementary teaching experience and work as a bilingual program director, Pinckney has 33 years of education experience. She earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Vermont.

Pinckney said though she’s learned a great deal in her position with the state, the work is not as cohesive as working within a school district. She said she looks forward to returning to that type of environment.

“I miss working with the same group of people,” she said. “Consistently you’re working with the same key leaders with the same vision with the same mission for the same kids over time.”

Pinckney acknowledges the new role will bring many more night meetings than her current position requires.

“This is at a good time in my life,” she said. “Both of my boys are in college. Whereas last year I was going to football games, hockey games, lacrosse games, team dinners, school activities… I have that time now. I’m not asking for a zillion night meetings, but I’m not seeing that as the kind of challenge that it would have been for me even last year when I had a senior in high school.”

Pinckney said she expects her experience at the state level will serve her well as CSSU superintendent. Helping initiate the Vermont Educational Leadership Collaborative – a group of key educators throughout Vermont who are creating leadership development among state educators – has been valuable, she said. Her regional connections, and some national connections, as well as the work the state has done on assessment will also be valuable, she said.

“I certainly know where all the resources are, and that’s important,” Pinckney said. “I think it’s easy to be doing your work and not realize where you can turn to for support.”

Williston School Board Chairwoman Marty Sundby said in an e-mail she is very pleased with Pinckney’s appointment.

“She comes to the position with the ability to jump right in since she already has a good understanding of what CSSU is all about and what we’re trying to accomplish,” Sundby said. “Her vision of where education needs to be as well as her collaborative approach will serve our District well.”

Though former superintendent Brian O’Regan announced his resignation in November, a screening committee was unable to identify any suitable candidates by spring. Since July, Bob Mason, chief operating officer for the supervisory union, has served as the union leader in an interim capacity to allow the CSSU Board time to find an appropriate candidate for the vacant position.

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Author speaks about racism in Vt.

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By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

Bob Walsh, a tall, 73-year-old ex-Marine with a north-of-Boston accent, might seem an unlikely ambassador for promoting racial equality, and he is the first to admit it.

“One of the questions I get asked all the time is: ‘What is a white guy doing talking about black history?’” he said.

Speaking at the Dorothy Alling Library on Monday to a room of about 15 people, three of whom were people of color, he described his journey from a childhood in white-bread Swampscott, Mass., to the racially charged melting pot of the Vietnam war-era Marine Corps.

Eventually he answered his own question.

“I became aware for the first time that African Americans were no different than me,” Walsh said during his hour-long talk. “I was afraid of getting killed and so were they. It changed my life to realize that all this stuff about differences between people is just so much stuff. We’re all the same.”

Walsh came to Vermont in 1976 and began teaching African American history at South Burlington High School in 1980 after retiring from the Marines. He taught at South Burlington until 1995, when he was hired by the University of Vermont to teach in the Race and Culture program. Currently retired, he is anything but inactive. Walsh just completed his second book on racism, “Through White Eyes: Color and Racism in Vermont.”

Walsh said he has found that many people in Vermont, which is 96.9 percent white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, do not believe racism is present in the state.

“The main problem is denial that racism exists,” Walsh said in an interview after his talk. “If you deny it, it’s hard to correct.”

REACTIONS

Denise Dunbar, coordinator of the school program Reading to End Racism, attended the talk and agreed with Walsh.

“I believe it’s a national issue and a national problem,” she said. “And I think the problem is the obliviousness to racism from people of privilege and also the denial that goes along with that.”

Dunbar, who identifies as a black Indian, said she faces racism in many different situations every day. Sometimes the acts are blatant, such as being called names; and sometimes the racism is what Walsh calls “unaware, unintentional racism,” such as being ignored by a clerk at a store, or what Dunbar calls “micro insults that we face on a daily basis.”

Ken Dunbar, Denise’s brother, was also in the audience. The 26-year Vermont resident said that when he wakes up in the morning he must prepare himself for a day filled with racial discrimination.

“It’s really scary,” he said. “It’s masked and it’s disguised here. … I’m stepping out into America and I’m already on guard.”

Ryon Price, a minister at the United Church of Colchester was also in attendance. Price is a white man whose wife is African American.

“Obviously these issues of race in Vermont hit home closely for us,” Price said.

He said he believes that talking about the problem of racism is key to solving the problem.

“One of the important things about Bob’s work is that he’s a white voice speaking to the truth of some of the darker forms of racism, and how they’re not just myth.”

‘WE CAN ALL DO SOMETHING’

Walsh said in his 30 years in Vermont, he has not seen any real improvement in race relations.

“There’s a greater amount of diversity because there are more people of color coming to the state,” he said. “But I haven’t seen any marked improvement in the atmosphere about racism or the denial of racism.”

In order to try and remedy some of the racist attitudes, Walsh said people need to understand the African American experience in America. To that end, he recently started a nonprofit foundation, the Vermont African American History Project, whose purpose is to encourage the teaching of black history in Vermont schools. The foundation will provide tuition assistance to Vermont teachers who take college-level courses on African American history. Walsh said the foundation also leads workshops in schools on how teachers can integrate African American history into their curriculum.

Despite his bleak analysis about the lack of progress in Vermont in terms of racist attitudes, Walsh is not without hope.

“My take on it is, we can all do something,” Walsh said. “It can be something as simple as, when you go to a cocktail party and they start talking nigger jokes you say ‘I don’t want to hear it.’ That’s not easy to do… but that’s what it’s going to take.”

 

To donate to the Vermont African American History Project, send a check to VAAHP, 17 Mountain View Road, South Burlington, Vt., 05403

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Students kick off history road show project

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By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

Casey Wright and Brooke Blair carefully unfurled an ancient-looking American flag on the table, each wearing a pair of white gloves so as not to damage the fragile artifact. Blair was taking down information on the feel and texture of the material for the pair’s research.

“It’s really thin,” Wright said. “And gross! It’s kind of bumpy.”

Wright, 13, and Blair, 12, and the other members of Williston Central School’s Phoenix House began their initial research at the Dorothy Alling Library on Monday into a selection of artifacts belonging to the Williston Historical Society. The “Road Show” project, led by teacher Aron Merrill, is meant to expose the students and the community to local Williston history through hands-on experience.

“The kids are going to be learning history through the objects, asking questions and letting the objects take us where they do,” said Merrill.

During the school year, the students will work in pairs researching about 45 objects, Merrill said. They will work with historical society members to find out as much as they can about each object, then present their findings to the community in the spring. The students will compile a database of the objects that can be used by the historical society in the future. The final presentation will also feature local appraisers who will be on hand to appraise items for visitors, similar to the public television show “Antiques Road Show.”

Monday morning, the group of seventh and eighth graders were busy looking over their objects and taking notes on forms designed to steer them in the right direction. The forms asked students to think about possible uses for the object, when and where it might have been used, and what could be learned about the technology at the time in which it was made.

Students must look for clues on their objects in order to find out more about them. Olivia Bourdeau, 13, and Cassy Lacroix, 12, were inspecting a “crazy quilt,” or a patchwork quilt made from irregularly sized pieces of cloth.

“We figured out it was hand-stitched from the back,” Bourdeau said. “It’s different looking. I’ve seen like regular ones, but not a crazy quilt.”

Another team, Adam Corbosiero and Andrew Lemieux, were looking at a dented, yellow and black metal sign advertising McCormick-Deering farm machines. The address on the sign read “R.E. Brown, North Williston, VT.”

“I’m hoping maybe to actually find a farm machine that was made by them,” Lemieux said.

Other objects the students will be researching include a bullet-ridden sign from the border between Essex and Williston, a wedding dress, a Knights of Templar uniform, a World War II shell lamp, and a family bible.

Historical society member Mary Tuthill was on hand to help answer questions from the students. She said she was energized by some of the enthusiasm shown by the kids, and was pleased “to have these kids’ curiosity about their town developed.”

Historical society president Ginger Isham said the project will hopefully pique others’ interest in local history — an interest the students already seemed to have.

“We all found the majority of the students had many questions, were interested in the artifacts and surprised at what the society has in the Vermont Room collection,” she said

Merrill emphasized that the project was a work in progress.

“There’s no text book for this,” Merrill said. “We’re just starting to create questions and find out where this is going to take us.”

Historical society member Mary Tuthill was on hand to help answer questions from the students. She said she was energized by some of the enthusiasm shown by the kids, and was pleased “to have these kids’ curiosity about their town developed.”

Merrill emphasized that the project was a work in progress.

“There’s no text book for this,” Merrill said. “We’re just starting to create questions and find out where this is going to take us.”

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