December 20, 2014

Trash equals cash for new business

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Junk collection franchise opens in Williston

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

It may be junk to some, but Aaron Fastman sees worn couches, old clothing and other unwanted items as a business opportunity.

Fastman recently opened in Williston the first Vermont franchise for 1-800-GOT-JUNK? Using shiny blue, green and white trucks, the franchise picks up stuff too large for routine collection by garbage haulers and hauls it away.

A junk-collecting business recalls images of ramshackle trucks rattling down the road with loads of scrap metal. But 1-800-GOT-JUNK? uses custom trucks and a high-tech ordering system, bringing what has historically been a low-tech business into the 21st century.

Customers schedule a pickup by calling the national 800 number or through the company’s Web site. The booking is passed on to the local franchise via cell phone text messages or a computerized ordering system.

The franchise calls to confirm the appointment about 30 minutes ahead of time. Once there, uniformed workers assess the job, quote an exact price and take care of everything else, even sweeping up after they finish.

“We do all the lifting, sorting and transporting,” Fastman said. “The customers just point” to what they want removed.

Prices start at $99. A full truckload – equivalent to what six pickup trucks will hold – is $598. There are 13 other prices for various fractions of a truckload.

Fastman noted those prices include all costs associated with disposal. A $10 discount is given to customers who schedule pickups for the same day they call.

Unusable items are carted to a local transfer station and are eventually deposited in a landfill. But more than half of what is collected gets donated to the Salvation Army, ReCycle North or other places where it may be reused or recycled.

The local franchise, which opened in December, has an office at the corner of U.S. 2 and Industrial Avenue. Thousands of vehicles roll by each day, making it a perfect place to advertise using a parked truck emblazoned with the company’s name, which is the same as its phone number.

So far, Fastman and his employees, Jonathan Diamond and Bryan Yarnell, have completed about 40 jobs.

They have yet to collect anything quite as bizarre as some of the junk picked up by other 1-800-GOT-JUNK? franchises. Among the most unusual items have been 19,000 pounds of frozen animal carcasses, a couch filled with bees and a diffused World War II bomb.

But there have been some local oddities. One person got rid of a 1,000-pound safe. Another discarded more than a dozen fine Italian suits. One load included both a chandelier and a toilet seat.

One customer was the AAA travel club office in Williston. The office moved in December from Taft Corners Shopping Center to Maple Tree Place and needed to discard cubicle partitions and a worn-out counter, said Tom Williams, AAA’s northern New England regional manager. He called 1-800-GOT-JUNK?

“It worked well,” Williams said. “I think it’s a great service.”

Tom Moreau, general manager of Chittenden Solid Waste District, said the business is unlikely to have much effect on the big trash haulers that operate in the area. But it could draw business away from the handful of small businesses that collect junk.

“They are going to compete with the small guy who has a stake pickup truck,” Moreau said.

1-800-GOT-JUNK? was founded in 1989 by 18-year-old entrepreneur Brian Scudamore in Vancouver, British Columbia. It has since grown to include more than 270 franchises covering nearly all metropolitan areas in North America and numerous smaller cities.

Fastman, 32, grew up in Woodstock, N.Y. He attended colleges in Colorado and New Mexico, eventually earning a degree in radio broadcasting.

Over the years, he worked at Smugglers’ Notch and as a product tester for Burton Snowboards.

Most recently Fastman was a social worker. But when his wife, Sasha, had a child last year, he decided to find something that offered a better financial future.

“I said ‘I can’t afford to keep doing this,’” he recalled. “Getting paid 11 bucks an hour for doing social work just isn’t going to make it in Vermont.”

Fastman had to provide proof of $100,000 in working capital and complete a training program to qualify for the franchise. His territory covers all of Vermont as well as the Plattsburgh, N.Y., area.

Fastman hopes to steadily grow the business. He wants to eventually have a small fleet of trucks, with multiple vehicles assigned to each part of his territory.

But he plans to maintain a low-profile operation so he can avoid attracting the copycat competitors the fast-growing company has spawned in other parts of the country.

“My goal is to be successful at this, but not really tell people how successful I am,” he said.

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Child missing for 20 minutes

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School says bus protocol to change

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Every day when her afternoon kindergarten ends at Allen Brook School, 5-year-old Riley Westover gets on the same bus and gets off at the same stop at her daycare.

On Monday, though, she didn’t. Mark Westover, Riley’s father, got the first phone call from Riley’s daycare teacher.

“ ‘I didn’t know if she was with you,’” Mark said he heard over the phone. He confirmed she wasn’t.

Did his wife, Sophia, pick her up?

No, it turned out, she was still at work on Shelburne Road in South Burlington. Mark ran upstairs to grab his jacket and headed out the door.

“My first assumption was ‘I don’t know why, but I bet she got off at home,’” Mark said. “I work only a mile and a half from here. Still, the whole way you’re looking at both sides of the road to see if she’s walking.”

Sophia, meanwhile, was at work in tears.

“The first thing that came to mind was that little boy who got off at the right stop and he got abducted,” Sophia said. Thirteen-year-old Ben Ownby disappeared earlier this year in Missouri after getting off his bus. He was found later that week with 15-year-old Shawn Horbeck who’d been abducted four years prior.

“‘I’m 20 minutes away,’” Sophia said she’d thought to herself. “In 20 minutes, anything could happen. Twenty minutes can put them on the ferry. It could put them anywhere.”

“I lost it,” Sophia said.

Before getting on the bus that day, Riley went to see the nurse because she had a headache. The nurse checked her, Riley said, and likely because it was close to the end of the school day, told Riley to head back to class so she could get on the bus and “go home.”

So Riley did.

Riley’s home in a condominium complex is a scheduled bus stop on her regular bus route. But that stop comes before her regular stop at daycare. Riley’s regular bus driver was out that day. Riley got off with about three other kids, she said, including a friend. She went home, but nobody was there.

So she stood outside. A neighbor asked her to come inside to keep warm; with the wind chill, it was about 12 degrees below zero Monday afternoon. But Riley’s parents had always told her not to go into strangers’ homes. So Riley said “no.”

When Mark arrived, the neighbor was standing outside with a blanket wrapped around Riley’s not-quite-3-1/2-foot frame. The director of Riley’s daycare, who’d hopped into her car to start looking as soon as she learned Riley was missing, drove in behind Mark.

Mark went inside to call his wife at work; she’d already left. Neither parent has a cell phone, so the only way Mark could communicate that Riley was safe was to find Sophia. He tried the daycare first, and then went to Allen Brook.

“As soon as they walked through the door, I just dropped to my knees and started crying and crying,” Sophia said.

Allen Brook School Principal John Terko said a new protocol already is being put into place for substitute bus drivers. A staff member is creating a clipboard for each bus with students’ names, grades and stops. Substitute bus drivers will be expected to use the clipboard, and ask kindergarteners their names so accurate stops are confirmed.

Terko said this is the first time this school year a student has gotten off at the wrong stop, though it does happen once or twice a year. Humans can and do make mistakes, Terko said, though the school takes every reasonable precaution to prevent incidents like this.

“You don’t drop a kindergartener off unless a parent is there,” Terko said, referring to school bus protocol. If the parents aren’t at the bus stop, Terko said, bus drivers are expected to call into the school. If the school can’t locate the parent at home, the kindergartener is to be brought back to the school.

“The bus drivers certainly at this time of year know their kids,” Terko said. “The dilemma is when there’s a substitute driver who may not know the students or the students may not know the bus driver. Usually there might be a middle school kid who might help out: ‘you need to stop here, ‘ ‘you need to stop here, ‘ ‘this is where Billy lives,’ etc.”

That is not enough, Riley’s parents said, so they are glad the school is enhancing the system.

“I feel good about the initiatives put forward, but it’s always ‘are you going to do it?’” Mark said. “They probably will do it, but what happens two months from now? It’s hard. It’s day-to-day stuff that everybody forgets. But you can’t forget it because you’re dealing with five- and six-year-olds.”

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Asst. Town Clerk departs

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By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Williston resident Denise L’Esperance is leaving her position as Assistant Town Clerk.

After 2 1/2 years helping Williston residents with everything from voting to dog licenses, L’Esperance, 41, will complete her last day in the office next Friday. She’ll start a full-time position with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Burlington as an information receptionist in early March. Her position as Williston Assistant Town Clerk was part-time.

“She’s so friendly and outgoing and great with customers,” said Assistant Town Clerk Kathy Smardon. “She’s extremely bright and capable of anything we gave her. We’re going to miss her.”

Originally from Lynn, Mass., L’Esperance and her husband, a major with the Vermont State Police, moved to the southern part of Vermont 18 years ago for her husband’s job. The pair and their daughters, now 11 and 15, moved to Williston five years ago.

“I’ve met some really nice people in Williston,” said L’Esperance, whose warm personality is evident as she assists residents in the clerk’s office. “It’s helped me adjust to the area. I’ve learned a lot about the town.”

Hanging out with her family is one of her favorite ways to spend time when she’s not at work, she said. She also enjoys gardening, cooking, and reading horror novels like those written by James Patterson.

L’Esperance said she was well trained by the clerk’s two full-time assistants: Smardon, who has been in the office 18 years; and Kathy Boyden, who’s been there 35.

Being able to help someone who’s never been into the office find what they’re looking for has been her favorite part of the job; her least favorite was seeing residents unhappy when they’ve had to pay a fine for a late payment.

L’Esperance will begin her new job March 5, the day before Town Meeting Day – a busy day for the clerk’s office.

“I’m definitely going to miss a lot about this job. I enjoyed the elections,” she said. Not only did she enjoy seeing people on election days, she said, it was fun for her to see the outcome.

“Sometimes you think things are going to go one way and they go the other way,” she said.

Resident Lynn Distler will assume L’Esperance’s position on Feb. 20.

“I’m very excited about it,” Distler said. “I need more people interaction.”

Distler has been typing real estate appraisals part-time for the past three months, she said.

Town Clerk Deb Beckett could not be reached for comment prior to press time. Beckett is currently deployed to the southwest along the Mexican border as a member of the Vermont National Guard.

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Village restaurant up for sale

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Old Brick Cafe will not close, owner says

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The Old Brick Cafe’s owner is selling his business but plans to keep the historic building that houses it.

David Herskowitz emphasized that the cafe will stay open whether or not he finds a buyer. He simply wants to turn the day-to-day operation over to someone else.

“I’m going to sell it as a restaurant,” he said. “I’m not going to sell it otherwise.”

The Burlington-based real estate brokerage V/T Commercial lists the cafe for $185,000. That includes all furniture, equipment, the trade name and a long-term lease on the building.

Herskowitz said the business has been for sale for several months. He said so far he has “talked to a few interested parties but there’s nothing definite.”

The restaurant is located in a home built in 1842. After purchasing the structure, Herskowitz renovated the building and converted it for restaurant use. Before construction began, he estimated the work would cost between $180,000 and $200,000.

Since opening almost two years ago, the Old Brick Cafe has enjoyed a loyal following among patrons but has struggled with parking.

The restaurant seats 50 customers inside, with room for more on a seasonal outdoor patio. But it has just 17 parking spaces.

Herskowitz has since repeatedly tried to remedy the situation by expanding his lot or having customers use parking spaces near Town Hall and Williston Central School.

But town officials complained that cafe patrons were using spaces needed for municipal vehicles. And the Williston School Board in December rejected a proposal to share school lots.

The Development Review Board on Tuesday unanimously voted against a plan to add 10 spaces by paving land Herskowitz wanted to purchase from the school district, according to John Adams, development review planner.

“Everyone had some sympathy for David,” Adams said. “But the bottom line was they couldn’t justify paving over wetlands in an impaired watershed, especially when there is all that parking nearby.”

The lack of parking was also raised in 2005 when Herskowitz sought to expand his operating hours to serve dinner. But after more than 200 customers signed a petition supporting the additional hours the Development Review Board approved the application.

Herskowitz discontinued dinner service in November, citing spotty business and long hours.

The parking controversy and iffy dinner business, however, were not what prompted the sale, Herskowitz said. He said the cafe has enough customers during breakfast and lunch.

Instead, Herskowitz said he is ready to move on to something new, noting that he considers himself a “construction guy” not a restaurant proprietor.

Herskowitz said he enjoyed the challenge of renovating the building and launching a new business, but never intended to make a career out of running a restaurant.

“I’m an interesting guy and I like doing interesting things,” he said. “I don’t see myself doing this forever.”

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Williston goalie keeps saving the day

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Sophomore has over 1,100 saves

By Mal Boright
Observer correspondent

She may be just five-foot-one and 98 pounds, but sophomore Nicole Bonneau of Williston has come up big between the pipes this season for the 1-19 Champlain Valley Union High girls hockey team.

How big?

Consider an average of more than 30 stops a game this season and a two-year total of saves that has now reached more than 1,150. That’s a lot of pucks, and each was a potential score for the opposition.

“Nicole has been great,” said head coach Tom Ryan on Monday afternoon before the team was to take the ice for practice at Cairns Arena. “She has been getting shelled this year but it has probably made her a better goalie.”

With just the one victory—that a 3-2 triumph over Colchester High way back in early December—it has been a long season for Ryan and the Redhawks, who lost six seniors from last year’s squad that gained the Division 1 semifinals before losing to Bellows Free Academy of St. Albans.

But through it all, this young team with but two seniors has been getting playing time and experience.

On Tuesday, the Redhawks were to get official word on their foe in the first round of the playoffs. Ryan and Bonneau both thought it would be a Wednesday or Thursday contest at Stowe, a team that nudged the Redhawks twice during the regular season.

Last Saturday, CVU fell 5-1 to South Burlington, a game in which Bonneau came up with 37 saves while the Redhawks took just 14 shots at the Rebels’ goal.

However, CVU was down by just 2-1 after two periods, South Burlington getting both of its scores in the first eight minutes of the game but then getting blanked for the rest of the first period and the second by Bonneau who stopped some 25 shots in those stanzas.

“She sure gave you something to write about,” South Burlington coach Jake Cunavelis said of Bonneau to a lingering reporter before the start of the third period.

The Rebels stormed back for two quick goals at the start of the period to keep things from getting out of control. The Rebels were 12-6-1 for the campaign.

Freshman Sasha Gunther scored the lone CVU goal out of a pileup in front of the South Burlington cage. Junior Suzanne Levack and freshman Chrissi Whitaker drew assists.

Whitaker, Levack, sophomore Amanda Kaminsky, Gunther and freshman K.K. Logan among others give great promise for the future.

“Some of these players who started the season are becoming great,” said Bonneau, who is looking ahead with optimism.

While seniors Sam Lednicky and Kara Robinson, both forwards, will be missed, Ryan notes that he has a solid group of junior high players becoming CVU freshmen next winter.

For the busy backstop, the South Burlington game and its 37 stops was about average in a season where in one game Bonneau was called on for an incredible, not to mention acrobatic, 55 saves.

Ryan noted that last year there were two experienced and solid defense stars—Becky Street and Eliza Bradley—in front of Bonneau. Street is playing at St. Lawrence University while Bradley, as a freshman, won the goalie job for the University of Vermont soccer team.

Bonneau said she started skating some five years ago when she was 10. A year later, she put on the goalie pads in the Essex youth league. She has been in the net ever since.

“We were all asked to try it (goaltending)” she recalled. “I liked it.”

With all of these opponents’ shots coming her way, Bonneau was asked if she ever has dreams about the flat discs.

“I try not,” she said with a grin. “But then, I guess I see enough pucks so I don’t have to.”

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Town meeting can have future, speaker says

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By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Williston is a prime candidate for a new form of town meeting, according to a Vermont commentator on the issue.

Radio commentator, educator, and book co-author Susan Clark told a group gathered at Dorothy Alling Library on Monday afternoon that Williston may want to consider representative town meeting – a form Brattleboro has implemented – in lieu of secret balloting, also known as Australian ballot.

“A lot of towns in Vermont that have gotten larger… have said the only alternative is Australian ballot,” Clark said during her program, “Rediscovering the Secrets of town meeting.” “And that’s where the mistake is, because there are other alternatives.”

In representative town meeting, residents are elected to a body of town legislators who represent the concerns neighbors have raised about proposed budgets. In that process, at town meeting representatives don’t just ask questions, but can actually amend budgets higher or lower according to what they learn.

“In town meetings, it’s direct democracy. …Everyone who comes to town meeting is a legislator,” Clark said. “What happens when towns move to Australian ballot is it’s still direct democracy, but it’s no longer direct deliberative democracy.”

In 2000, Williston residents voted to move budgetary decisions from town meeting to secret balloting. The night before Town Meeting Day – this year March 5 – residents are invited to the Williston Central School auditorium to learn the background and details of both the town and school budgets. The next day, from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. voters cast their ballots at the polls at Williston Central School. Since 2001, Williston voters have not had the ability to alter the budget amount at town meeting.

Long-time Williston resident Ruth Painter said Monday she’s worried about the future of Williston town meeting because interest has dropped since the move to secret balloting.

Prior to 2001, 5 percent to 9 percent of registered Williston voters attended town meeting, according to town clerk office records. After the switch to Australian ballot, 1 to 3 percent of registered voters have attended. The one anomaly was in 2002 when 18 percent of registered voters attended town meeting; adoption of a local 1 percent sales tax was under discussion.

“With Australian ballot we all get a chance to make a decision,” Painter said, “but those who don’t come to town meeting don’t hear the discussion.”

Painter acknowledged that before 2001, “because the population grew so fast … hundreds of people were making these financial decisions for thousands. The hundreds of people that came to town meeting were not representative.”

Moving toward a representative town meeting could address that problem, Clark said.

Clark, who co-authored with University of Vermont professor Frank Bryan the book “All Those In Favor: Rediscovering the Secrets of Town Meeting and Community,” offered a number of suggestions for increasing civic engagement year round. “Living room meetings,” where neighbors talk about candidates or budget proposals over coffee, can be invaluable, she said. Writing letters to the community newspaper and suggesting new components to the town Web site – such as blogs or community listservs – also are good steps.

Program attendees had other suggestions. Painter suggested a potluck supper might draw more people back to town meeting. Resident Fran Nugent suggested that a van pick up seniors at senior housing complexes like hers to attend meetings throughout the year since they might not otherwise be able to attend. Jean Thomas said Channel 17 shows a range of videotaped meetings for that reason; but Jean Hopkins pointed out that Channel 17 only is accessible to those who pay for cable service. Hopkins said carpooling to meetings could improve civic engagement in Williston.

Clark emphasized that town meeting is unique to New England in the U.S. The concept was never exported to other parts of the country, she said, in part because of geography and in part because some of the founding fathers did not trust “the people” enough to use that kind of power responsibly.

Thomas Jefferson would have loved to see town meeting spread, Clark said, as would have Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville who wrote in his book “Democracy in America” the following, which Clark quoted: “Town meetings are to liberty what primary schools are to science; they bring it within people’s reach, they teach men how to use and to enjoy it.”

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Local schools boost test scores

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Gaps remain in income, disability, gender

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Williston’s public elementary and middle schools outpaced the Vermont state average by hefty margins in state test results released by the Vermont Department of Education last week. Williston scores were slightly higher over last year.

In reading, 81 percent of Williston students met or exceeded state proficiency levels, compared with 68 percent statewide. Last year only 77 percent of Williston students scored proficient or better.

In math, 83 percent were proficient or higher – up 4 percentage points over last year; only 63 percent of Vermont students scored in the same categories. In writing, 62 percent of Williston students attained or surpassed the state standard, compared with 49 percent across Vermont.

“In general CSSU is doing significantly better than the state,” said Chittenden South Supervisory Union Superintendent Elaine Pinckney. “Because these tests were developed around the grade level expectations, they really are a good indication of how students are progressing in the state curriculum.”

In its second year, the New England Common Assessment Program tests measure how well students meet the state’s expectations for success in their respective grade levels. The tests were administered to students in grades three through eight last fall. Students in all six grades took the math and reading tests; only students in grades five and eight took the writing test.

Champlain Valley Union High School juniors took the NECAP high school pilot test last fall; next fall’s juniors will take the full assessment.

Williston school students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged students (measured by who is eligible for free- and reduced-meal programs) showed improvement in scores over last year, though significant gaps remain between them and their peers – a trend seen statewide and nationally.

Since each of those student subgroups contains only about 70 students, the score differences can be slightly misleading. Still, Pinckney said the upward trend is something educators will look at. For example, nearly half of Williston’s economically disadvantaged students scored proficient or higher in reading this year, compared with only one-third last year. Similarly over one-third of students with disabilities were proficient or higher in math this year, compared with only a quarter last year.

Williston schools have been assessing all students more frequently through a pilot program called “response to instruction,” Pinckney said. The higher scores among subgroups and all students “might be some of the results of that,” she said.

Gender differences persist locally, as they do statewide and nationally. Though boys and girls scored nearly identically in math, girls outperformed boys by a wide margin in reading and writing.

Williston school administrators said they have not yet had time to review the test data formally with teachers – a half-day is set aside in early March for that purpose, according to information presented at previous school board meetings.

Nevertheless, District Principal Walter Nardelli said the school’s reading/writing and math curriculum coordinators indicated three efforts that may be responsible for score improvements. Using practice problems and other resources released by the test makers has helped educators understand the structure of the tests, they said. School-wide data helps teachers and administrators understand potential weaknesses in certain subject area skills, they also noted, so improvements can be made accordingly.

Individual student scores, especially of non-proficient students, also can help teachers plan appropriate interventions if the scores are consistent with regular classroom tests and performance, they said.

Pinckney noted that NECAP exams are not the best way to assess an individual child; during testing, for example, a child may be ill or facing other challenges.

“The test is a measure of how your school programs are doing in the big picture way,” Pinckney said. Individual student assessment, she said, is “hopefully … happening every minute of every day. (For example,) a teacher is teaching a unit, they are noticing if a student is understanding and right then they are assessing how to help a student understand.”

As required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, a science test will be added to the roster of tests for grades four, eight and 11 in May 2008.

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Project could incubate small businesses

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Architect wants to convert Rossignol building

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

A building that once housed a big ski manufacturer may now become a small-business incubator.

Rossignol’s former headquarters on Industrial Avenue was vacated following the company’s 2005 sale to California-based Quiksilver Inc. The last of the employees recently moved out as the company consolidated operations.

Now Burlington architect J. Graham Goldsmith has proposed converting some of the 144,000-square-foot building into office space. The idea is to offer inexpensive yet customizable offices that fledgling businesses can afford.

“The concept would be to have multiple small offices … that could share certain common spaces such as reception, conference, break room, exhibition space and an existing locker room/work-out facility as well as bathrooms, etc.,” wrote Goldsmith in a letter to the Williston Planning Commission. “Tenants could start with just an individual office and enlarge within the building as their business grows.”

The town’s zoning rules, however, do not permit the building to be used solely as offices. Buildings in the industrial district can only include offices as an accessory use.

Williston Town Planner Lee Nellis is currently updating the town’s land-use rules. He said he will propose a change in the code that permits small-business incubators in industrial districts.

The change would be narrowly written to allow incubators without opening up the districts to general office use, Nellis said. The Selectboard must approve that change and the new rules as a whole.

The proposal for Rossignol’s former headquarters is modeled on a similar project at the former Lane Press building on Pine Street in Burlington.

The 150-year-old structure housed a printing press and warehouse space until Goldsmith bought it in the 1980s. It now accommodates 35-40 small businesses, said Yves Bradley, a broker with Pomerleau Real Estate who is working with Goldsmith.

He said there are few large manufacturers left in Vermont, making it unlikely the Rossignol building could ever be leased as currently configured.

But Bradley said demand for small, inexpensive office spaces is high. The proposed offices would be leased for $8.50 per square foot.

“We could start moving people in now,” he said. “The question is only who and how many.”

Greg Dirmaier, a broker and partner with J.L. Davis Realty in Williston, said the proposed prices would make the new office space among the least expensive in Chittenden County. Base rates per square foot range from $7 to $16. After fees are tacked on, prices can top $20 per square foot for the nicest buildings in the most desirable locations.

Dirmaier agreed with Bradley that there is little demand for large industrial buildings.

“I’ve been in the business a lot of years, and I used to get many calls from out-of-state manufacturers looking for space,” he said. “Now that’s almost non-existent.”

Plans filed with the town call for dividing a portion of the building into nine sections and adding entrance marquees and signs for each of the new tenants. Offices would range from 1,434 square feet to 30,862 square feet. Some of the existing warehouse space may also be leased.

The project must receive site plan approval from the town and await a zoning change before the proposal can move forward.

Rossignol’s North American headquarters were located in the facility for more than 30 years, said Hugh Harley, who retired as the company’s president in 2005.

Harley said he was a salesman for Rossignol in the late 1960s when he was asked to look for a place for the French company’s U.S. and Canadian operations. He said the Williston site was picked over another location near Boston.

During the 1970s, the facility was a booming manufacturing center. But after the ski industry declined in the early ’80s, manufacturing ceased, Harley said. It continued to serve as a headquarters building and a distribution center until last year, when Quiksilver moved those operations to Utah.

Conversion of buildings abandoned by companies like Rossignol is critical if Vermont’s economy is to flourish, Bradley said.

“The question is how do you take an existing manufacturing building and keep it from going dark,” he said. “This proposal will add flexibility and use the facility creatively.”

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Undelivered mail will hold

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Snowed-in boxes prevent deliveries

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Along with roads and driveways, last week’s blizzard also buried mailboxes and delayed deliveries.

But Williston’s postmaster said residents and businesses need not worry about missing their mail. Anyone with a mailbox still hidden in a snow bank or felled by a snowplow will have their letters and parcels held until they can be delivered.

“We understand,” Williston Postmaster Ed Mongeon said on Friday. “This was very unusual.”

The Valentine’s Day storm dropped about 2 feet of snow across the region and set a record for snowfall in a 24-hour period. School was cancelled and businesses closed.

Williston mail carriers, however, continued to make deliveries. But many mailboxes along the town’s 10 mail routes were inaccessible or covered in a thick blanket of snow.

Carriers who cannot complete deliveries bring the mail back to the post office, Mongeon said. Then they try again the next day.

Mongeon urged residents to help carriers do their job by completely clearing the area around their boxes. Carriers are not supposed to get out of their trucks for safety reasons, Mongeon said, so it is important that they can drive right up to the mailbox.

The best test is to see if your mailbox is accessible is to pull your car up to the box and see if you can open it by reaching through your passenger-side window. If not, your mail may not be delivered.

Another common problem has been mailboxes knocked over by snowplows or pushed off their posts when plows move mountains of snow against them. Mongeon said some residents have resorted to placing knocked-down mailboxes temporarily on top of snowbanks.

Mongeon said many Williston residents helped out by notifying the post office when mail deliveries were impossible.

“The phones have been ringing off the hook,” he said.

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Building a house of hope in Nepal

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Williston’s Namjou seeks to raise money for home, school for impoverished children

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

It was a beggar afflicted by polio, pushing himself on a skateboard along the streets of Kathmandu, who launched a Williston resident’s journey to create a home for poor Nepali children.

It was1997. Part-time Williston resident Maggie Namjou had been living in Kathmandu, Nepal, on and off the previous 13 years – teaching and working on literacy issues.

She’d known Ram Prasad Devkota, the skateboard-bound beggar, for several years. During a conversation one day, he invited her home to meet his wife and children.

“He had never mentioned to me that he had family,” Namjou said. “It was a whole new world for me to realize beggars had family.”

“Home” for Devkota was a squatter cell. The ceiling was falling in, Namjou said, and dirty mats filled the floor.

As Namjou began to spend time with the family, she kept seeing Menaka, the seven-year-old daughter, with a man from Belgium.

“He would take her away and she would come back wearing frilly dresses,” Namjou said last week. “He’d been giving her father large amounts of money. There was a guest house next to their house; I later learned (it was) a place pedophiles stayed. That terrified me.”

To spare Menaka the fate of many impoverished Nepali girls – being kidnapped and sold into Indian brothels – Namjou asked if she could put both children in a boarding hostel. But the facility turned out to be poor, so eventually she asked if she could take them into her home.

“I didn’t give it a lot of thought, but it seemed like the right thing to do,” Namjou said.

The children came to live with her, and their father visited weekly. In time, two children became two dozen, and Aastha (pronounced “Ah-sta”) House was born.

Aastha House, translated as house of faith and hope, allows destitute children – some with parents, some without – to get off the streets and be guaranteed a clean and safe home in which to live. In a country where the child mortality rate is more than 10 times that of the U.S., Aastha House kids attend one of the area’s top schools and are fed healthy, nutritious meals. Once a week the kids have meat; the average Nepali has meat once a year, Namjou said.

Williston Observer freelance photographer Karen Pike has traveled to Nepal and stayed at Aastha House twice in the last five years.

“If I could, I would go back every year and do everything I can to help Maggie,” Pike said this week. “Unlike kids in the U.S. where there are government agencies … you literally just see children sitting on the curb, waiting to die, because they’ve been hungry so long.”

“I think that Maggie really believes that the only way to help Nepal is by helping this generation so that they can make the country better in the future,” Pike said. “Otherwise it’s going to implode.”

Aastha House has had as many as 28 kids at one time. Now Namjou, and a Ugandan couple that works with her, are caring for 21 kids, ages three to 16. Some kids have grown and gone on to a university. One left for marriage.

Namjou, now 47, has supported Aastha House with her own money since the beginning. Currently, the house is rented. Namjou is looking to raise $200,000 so that her nonprofit, the Rising Child Nepal Foundation, can build a permanent home and school that will serve between 40 and 60 kids. Namjou already has purchased the land.

“The main problem is the landlords are terrible,” Namjou said last week. “They really don’t care about the kids. They continue to raise the rent and make outrageous demands.”

Namjou, who has a master’s degree in international development from the School for International Training in Brattleboro, first found herself in Nepal when a group of friends invited her to take a four-month tour of Asia. She accepted, deferring her start at Tufts Law School to pursue a career in human rights law.

“The only thing I really knew about Nepal was that Mt. Everest was there; I knew absolutely nothing else about it,” Namjou said. She arrived there in April 1984.

“Immediately when I got off the plane, I felt like I knew this place. That was it. I can’t explain it.’”

Namjou’s road hasn’t been entirely easy; employment was not always guaranteed and for a number of years now, after a divorce, she’s been raising a son, now 18, on her own.

Also difficult has been her journey to determine which children to accept.

“I couldn’t accept every child,” Namjou said she quickly learned. “Literally every day I’d get people telling me about children in crisis.”

Namjou realized she didn’t have the resources to take in children with major health problems, or those addicted to glue sniffing – what Namjou said is an escape from hunger.

Namjou knows she cannot save the world. But she said she knows if she changes individual children’s lives in drastic ways, there is a domino effect of her work on their families.

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