November 24, 2014

Qimonda shutting its doors, relocating to North Carolina

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By Greg Duggan
Observer staff

A local technology company has announced it will close its doors in Williston and head south for warmer pastures.

Qimonda revealed on Friday that it will consolidate its North American design and development operations, to which the Williston branch belongs, in Raleigh, N.C. The company works in the field of dynamic random access memory, or DRAM, to produce memory chips for consumer products including cell phones and gaming systems,

The departure will affect more than 120 employees currently working at the Williston facility on Hurricane Lane.

“The decision was made to leverage the resources better by combining the two development and design centers … in a larger site,” said Donna Wilson, director of communications for Qimonda. “By the nature of designs, (employees) work back and forth in the same room. It’s easier if you have them in the same building.”

Alan Walker, senior director of Qimonda’s Burlington Development Center in Williston, explained his branch looks for ways to reduce the size of circuits on the memory chips, which cuts costs by producing more from the same amount of initial product.

“The DRAM industry has lost about 80 percent of its price in the last 10 months. The company is looking for ways to become more productive,” Wilson said.

The site in North Carolina employs about 350 people, Wilson said. Wilson and Walker said the decision to move was made about a month ago.

“I think people are, I would term it as ‘shocked,’” Walker said. “They’re disappointed, but also people are looking towards the future.”

Wilson said Qimonda plans to extend offers to 50 to 75 employees to relocate to North Carolina, and is working with placement agencies to find work in Vermont for the remaining employees.

The Williston location will close on June 30, 2008, Wilson said. She added that some employees will likely start transitioning to North Carolina in the spring.

Though efforts to reach employees were unsuccessful, others in the business community expressed dissatisfaction and surprise with the decision.

“I’m extremely disappointed,” said Frank Cioffi, president of GBIC, or the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation.

He gave several reasons for his reaction.

“They are a great company, their employees make a very, very decent income and receive great benefits. They’re in an industry that is a growing industry. It’s a technology-based, knowledge-based company with the type of jobs we want to keep and grow here in Vermont,” Cioffi said. “Our first concern is always for employees and their families.”

Cioffi also said Qimonda was a driving force behind changes made in 2006 to the state’s economic incentives. The change made a shift from tax credits to cash-based incentives.

Cioffi said Qimonda’s business structure kept it from paying corporate income taxes in Vermont, so it sought other incentives.

Though Qimonda was not the only company to push for changes in economic incentives, Cioffi said, “They were the first company that kept saying to us they couldn’t use the Vermont economic incentives. We had hopes they were going to grow here.”

 

EFFORTS TO STAY LOCAL

Such a history, particularly when coupled with other efforts to expand in Vermont, suggest that Qimonda had no expectation of the move until recently. Last year, Bill Dunn, president of Hillside East Corp., the business park owner of Qimonda’s Williston location, pursued zoning changes in the town to allow for an expansion of Qimonda’s facility. When initial efforts failed, Dunn submitted a revised proposal for zoning changes to a smaller area, which the Planning Commission Approved.

But when the process of making changes appeared as if it would take longer than the company wanted to wait, Qimonda sought another site, announcing in July that it would relocate to nearby Technology Park in South Burlington. Qimonda was scheduled to move to South Burlington on March 1, 2008, according to Tim McKenzie, director of business development for Technology Park Partners.

Now, McKenzie and Technology Park Partners have a vacant building on their hands, though McKenzie said Qimonda had signed a 10-year lease for a 62,000 square foot building.

Walker would neither confirm nor comment on the lease.

“We knew there were adjustments to their plans when a month or so ago we stopped doing fit-up, the tenant improvements to their space,” McKenzie said. “We’re working with them to satisfy both parties.”

Though McKenzie said Technology Park Partners would fill the space as soon as possible, he said his company faces a challenge in that it also needs to fill a 54,000 square foot building it began constructing after signing a lease with Qimonda.

“Once (the building for Qimonda) was leased up, we felt it was time to build another building,” McKenzie said. “That complicates the picture a little bit, but we’re working diligently to lease space in both buildings.”

 

FILLING THE VOID

While Technology Park Partners seeks a new tenant, GBIC is also searching for ways to fill the vacancy left by Qimonda.

“The labor force there (at Qimonda) is highly skilled,” Cioffi said. “We think their skills are very marketable in the State of Vermont to other companies, and certainly to our region as well. We’re working with the Vermont Department of Economic Development to reach out and try to work with the Vermont Department of Labor to find job opportunities for employees there.

“We’re also trying to recruit other companies that we might attract here,” Cioffi said, though he said he could not share names of potential businesses.

Qimonda’s sales and marketing centers in California and Texas, as well as a manufacturing site in Virginia, will remain in their current locations.

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Williston nonagenarian keeps on schussing

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Jim Thompson celebrates 90th birthday

By Colin Ryan
Observer correspondent

Jim Thompson catches the first lift up the mountain at Smugglers’ Notch four or five times a week – but he’s hardly a typical downhill skier. On Saturday, Thompson’s family threw him a 90th birthday party at the Williston Woods Community Center.

The still-spry Thompson stood for most of the party, ignoring a minor health issue, trading hugs and memories with more than 50 friends and family members who came to wish him well.

“I’m not nearly as active as Jim is. He’s always doing something,” said Thompson’s wife, Harriet, with a sigh, then added with a smile, “Jim is a 60-year-old in a 90-year-old body.”

After living for 40 years in Jeffersonville, the Thompsons returned to Williston in July to live near their daughter, Hallery Brunet. Thompson worked for many years as a chemical engineer for IBM, and his grandchildren, who flew in for the party, vividly recall his love for chemistry.

“I still remember being 8 years old and innocently asking my grandfather where salt comes from,” recounted granddaughter Jodie Donohue, who came from South Carolina. “Well, he proceeded to give me a 30-minute, college-level dissertation on the creation of sodium chloride. He certainly explained it well, but he also gave me a lot more than I bargained for.”

Several of Thompson’s friends wore ties to the party, in honor of his unique habit of skiing while wearing a tie.

“He hated wearing a tie to work at IBM,” explained Brunet, “but he was happy to wear them on the slopes, because they would keep his neck warm. He had to do it, since he simply refused to wear sweaters.”

Donohue, along with grandsons Bob and James Brunet, compiled a book of 90 memories of their grandfather for the partygoers to peruse. The three grandchildren remembered an active childhood of hiking, canoeing, swimming, fishing, camping and skiing – both water and downhill.

“He always had a great deal of reverence for the natural world, and had respect for nature and modern-day heroes,” said grandson James Brunet, who as a boy fly fished at night with Thompson near his primitive lakeside cabin in Pennsylvania.

“He’s a remarkable man,” said Jeffersonville resident Margaret McIntosh, who called the slopes at Smugglers’ Notch her retirement home. McIntosh is the president of the 16-year-old Smugglers’ 55+Club, of which Thompson is a founding member.

“Jim was on the ski patrol for 30 years, and only retired at age 80. He’s an ambassador in many ways – in and through his life, he has always promoted our ski areas,” McIntosh said.

In honor of Thompson’s 90th birthday, Smugglers’ Notch awarded him with a Lifetime Skiing Award, which was on display at the party.

“I wrote in his birthday card that I’ve been trying to keep up with him for years,” laughed Clem Holden, 85, who has already skied 11 days this season.

Holden described Thompson as a “mad skier.”

“He’s a very positive person,” said Bill Boyce, who worked for IBM at the same time as Thompson, but first met him on a chairlift at Smuggs. “The whole time I’ve known him, he’s had a grin on his face and a gleam in his eye.”

Explained Donohue, “He has always been an intense person – and he never does anything halfway, although I think the years have mellowed him in a really good way.”

James Brunet agreed.

“He’s always been driven in all aspects. I think his perspective changed along with his age. I think he’s come to terms with what he has done, and is satisfied … finally,” Brunet laughed. “May we all be so fortunate.”

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Schools call on Vermont National Guard to serve lunch

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Some parents feel military presence ‘inappropriate’

By Kim Howard
Observer correspondent

Third grader Laura Gerry and fourth grader Michael Howell noticed the people in uniform serving hot food in the Williston Central School cafeteria on Wednesday, even though they didn’t buy lunch.

“It was pretty cool,” Laura said, referring to the Vermont National Guard personnel who had dished out baked chicken, garlic mashed potatoes and green beans.

Michael agreed it was cool “because they’re from the army,” he said.

Four members of the Vermont Army National Guard and two Vermont Air National Guardsmen joined forces with school lunch employees on Wednesday to serve lunch in Williston’s public schools. Students were invited through the school newsletter to donate snacks and supplies to send to troops overseas.

“It was just sort of a brainstorming of a fun thing we can do in the cafeteria to pique interest for the kids to go through the lunch line,” Williston School Board member Laura Gigliotti said.

Gigliotti helped organize Wednesday’s “Honoring our men and women in the military” day with Lydia King, the school’s food service director.

Piquing interest in the school’s food service program is fiscally desirable. School food service programs often do not break even financially, according to Williston Central School Principal Jackie Parks, and Williston’s is no exception. While school boards typically can expect to allocate $25,000 to keep a school lunch program afloat, Parks said, the Williston program is projected to be at a $50,000 to $60,000 loss this year.

“We’re doing all sorts of different days and programs in the lunch room to generate interest,” Parks said.

In previous years, school officials said, members of Williston’s police and fire and rescue departments have served lunch on “heroes” days. Inviting service men and women was another approach.

Williston School Board member Keith Roy, a member of the Vermont Army National Guard, told Gigliotti recently that a package he’d received from children in Milton schools when he was overseas meant a great deal to him. Wednesday’s event, Gigliotti added, “was a way to teach our children what it means to support our troops,” some of whom are school parents and neighbors.

A few parents saw the event differently, however.

“It’s a misguided and inappropriate method of showing support for the military,” said Jill Carberry, parent of a second grader at Williston Central. “I don’t think the kids will be able to differentiate between supporting the military and supporting the war. I do not support the war, nor does my family.”

Hannah Rabin and her husband Gil Theriault, parents of students in the second and eighth grades, concurred.

“If people want to show support for the troops, they should do that at home and outside of the school,” Rabin said. “If the school wants to bring up issues about the military and the war, then that should be done in the setting of the classroom in the curriculum with really balanced perspectives.”

Both families emphasize their respect of and support for the troops; Theriault’s brother is currently serving overseas in the Air Force. For these families, supporting the troops means seeing them come home safely as soon as possible, they said.

While their peers ate in the cafeteria Wednesday, second graders Eliza Fehrs and Lucien Theriault sat in their classroom happily munching on cheese pizza, carrots, waffle cookies and milk with Rabin, Lucien’s mom. Both children knew why they were eating there rather than the cafeteria.

“My mom wants (the troops) to come home,” Eliza said, referring to Carberry. “She doesn’t want me to buy lunch because I’m not supporting the war.”

Both children said they think the fighting should stop, though they didn’t like the idea of having a class discussion about it.

“School’s just not really a good place for war. School’s a place for peace,” Lucien explained.

Gigliotti said only two families had expressed concern over the event; the rest of the feedback, she said, has been “overwhelmingly” positive.

Steve Casale, parent of a second grader and fifth grader, said he supported the lunch program “without question.”

“I think it’s actually overdue. Not to quote Jack Nicholson, but we sleep soundly under that blanket of freedom they provide every night,” Casale said, referring to a line in the movie “A Few Good Men.” “The fact that we’re sharing what their sacrifice means to our children is honorable.”

After the first wave of children went through the lunch line at Williston Central Wednesday, Vermont Air National Guard Major Rick Shebib and Lt. Col. Steve Lambrecht sat together in the cafeteria eating their lunch.

Lambrecht, a Williston resident, said it was fun to watch the kids come through the line since he knew so many of them from his wife’s day care. Thinking back to his own school lunch days of “hot dogs and mystery something,” Lambrecht praised Wednesday’s lunch options: “We didn’t have lunch like this when I was a kid.”

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Moo-Jew provides Christmas alternative

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Jews and Chinese unite for comedy dinner

By Michael Kelley
Observer correspondent

With non-stop Christmas music dominating the radio and holiday specials on television nightly, the Christmas season is in full swing. With hundreds of thousands of people frantically putting final touches on shopping lists, the days leading up to Dec. 25 are some of the busiest of the winter. But what do these days mean for those who don’t celebrate Christmas?

Moo-Jew Comedy, a fusion of Jewish comedy and Chinese food, is attempting to answer that very question. The comedy festival, now in its second year, will be held at 8 p.m. at Asian Bistro, 121 Connor Way in Williston on Dec. 23, 24 and 25.

“It is no secret that Jews and Chinese food (have) been together for centuries,” said festival producer and performer Jason Lorber. “This is just a natural progression. Why make someone schlep to a comedy show when you can bring it right to them.”

Lorber said this year’s festival, stemming from the popularity of last year’s event, will be held on three different nights rather than one, as it was in 2006.

“Last year we sold out. We had to turn dozens of people away,” he said. “We are very excited to offer it for three days. It looks like it will be a big success.”

The event kicks off at 8 p.m. each night and will include a four-course dinner, with a vegetarian option, plus the comedic styling of Lorber, New York City’s Dan Hirshon and Boston’s Myq Kaplan. Hirshon has performed all over New England and was a 2003 Las Vegas Comedy Festival finalist. Kaplan is a well-known and award-winning comedian who has appeared on Comedy Central and at various comedy festivals around the United States.

According to Lorber, the three nights of comedy are not totally geared to Jews. In fact, Lorber said, everyone is welcome.

“A lot of people, not just Jews, are looking for something beyond the traditional ways to celebrate the holiday,” he said. “It is not just great comedy and a good meal. It has a very nice community feel to it.”

While the general goal of the festival is to provide a fun alternative to otherwise traditional holiday celebrations, Lorber has a very specific goal for this year’s event.

“We want to increase the laughter rate by 23 percent,” he said.

Lorber advised people to act fast if they hope to catch one of the shows this year: According to his calculations, the shows are selling tickets three-and-a-half times faster than last year.

For tickets call the Flynn Theatre Box Office at 863-5966. Tickets may also be available at the door. More information is available at www.moojew.com.

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Group objects to town

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Appeal filed with Vt. Supreme Court

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

An environmental group has appealed a decision designating Taft Corners as the state’s first-ever growth center, arguing that it encourages the kind of big-box development the program was supposed to prevent.

The Vermont Natural Resources Council filed the appeal last week with the state Supreme Court. The organization claims last-minute changes to the growth center’s boundaries violated the intent of the legislation establishing the program.

“The growth center law was never intended to give out tax and other financial incentives to promote Wal-Mart and other big box development that is single-use, scattered and auto-dependent,” said Steve Holmes, sustainable communities director for VNRC, in a media release. “This new version of the growth center does just that.”

At issue is a small piece of the growth center, which includes about 700 acres, running east to west from the South Ridge subdivision to just past Harvest Lane and north to south from Allen Brook to Interstate 89.

The growth center approved by the state’s Expanded Downtown Board in October excluded the small piece of the Taft Corners Park retail center where Wal-Mart and The Home Depot are located. But the VNRC alleges that a last-minute request by a representative of developer Jeff Davis, whose company owns Taft Corners Park, swayed the board to include the parcels.

Davis confirmed that he sent a letter and had a representative testify at a hearing before the vote that Wal-Mart and The Home Depot should be included in the growth center, as they were in the town’s original application.

He said the appeal was a “politically motivated” action by environmentalists who disliked Taft Corners Park since it was built in the 1990s.

“It seems kind of silly to me that after 10 years they are still bitter about the stores out there,” Davis said.

He added that even those who don’t like the much-criticized retail outlets should realize that they will be redeveloped over time and the growth center designation will give Williston tools to improve the area.

John Hall, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Affairs, which oversees the growth center program, said it made little sense to omit the big box stores from Williston’s designation. He said by including the stores the town will be better able to control future development.

Town Planner Lee Nellis declined to comment on the appeal, noting that Williston is a bystander in the legal fight. He simply hopes the town can still benefit from the designation.

Growth center status allows the town to apply for tax increment financing, which permits money to be borrowed against anticipated property tax revenue generated by new development. That money could fund a series of grid streets and sidewalks the town hopes will help convert Taft Corners into a pedestrian-friendly downtown.

Holmes said in an interview that the appeal is not aimed at the town of Williston, which he lauded for its cooperation with his group and others that advocate smart growth.

VNRC objects only to including Wal-Mart and The Home Depot in the growth center, which Holmes said sets a bad precedent for a program designed to promote compact growth and prevent sprawl.

“Since this is the first application of its kind, we think it is important it be done right because it sets a precedent for applications from other towns,” he said.

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Board shoots down new firearms rules

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Ordinance sent back to drawing board

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Another attempt to refine gun rules misfired on Monday, as dozens of hunters testified that the ordinance would restrict use of their own land and be inconsistent with state regulations.

The Williston Selectboard on Monday held a public hearing on an amended firearms discharge ordinance. After more than an hour of testimony, the board sent the proposal back to the drawing board.

“It appears to me at least that we need to do more work on the ordinance,” said Chairman Terry Macaig.

It was at least the third hearing on the issue, which has created considerable controversy over the past few months, with property owners arguing for more restrictions and hunting advocates lobbying for reduced regulation.

The current ordinance divides the town in two parts, north and south of Interstate 89. Firearms cannot be used in most of the area north of the interstate, but they can be used south of I-89, except for in public parks and recreation areas or within 500 feet of any building.

Town staffers suggested amending the ordinance to clarify what is a public park. Hunting advocates then urged the town to allow hunting on at least some of that land. But when that was proposed, others came forward and urged the town to ban firearm use on all town-owned property.

That provision was included in the latest version of the proposed ordinance. Other restrictions included a ban on firearm use within 10 feet of any public road or within 100 feet of any marked public trail.

Monday’s hearing was attended by about 40 people, almost all of whom were hunters or members of sportsmen’s groups.

Some of the most pointed testimony came from large landowners who also like to hunt.

Jeff Boomhower said he owns 190 acres south of I-89. He noted that his family granted an easement to the town for a trail that reaches Five Tree Hill.

Instead of a thanks, he said the ban on firearm use within 100 feet of a public trail would prevent hunting on his property.

“You are regulating private land,” Boomhower said. “This is a slap in the face.”

He later accused the board of being “out of control,” drawing applause from the crowd.

Others pointed out that the proposed rules departed from state regulations, leading to potential confusion.

Evan Hughes, central vice president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, said the ordinance would forbid firearm use within 500 feet of any building, even if the land is not posted, which is required by Vermont law to establish a no-hunting zone.

“Sportsmen are a law-abiding group,” Hughes said. “They need consistent laws.”

Several who spoke said at least some of Williston’s public land should be open to hunting. That would ensure that young people and those of modest means have an accessible and affordable way to participate in a centuries-old Vermont tradition.

“Lots of young people, who if land wasn’t close by, wouldn’t have the opportunity to go out and hunt,” said Greg Paulman, a local hunting instructor. “To make them drive an hour to get someplace they can hunt with the cost of gas what it is really isn’t fair.”

Notably absent from the hearing was anyone supporting the amended ordinance. At a September hearing, residents who live in the rural Brownell Mountain area said they were worried about their safety.

“I have 10 acres and I like to walk it. I don’t want to have to worry that my head might get blown off by a stray bullet or a ricochet,” Julie Bonanno told the board.

Some at Monday’s hearing, however, felt that hunters and hikers could co-exist.

“Public land is public land, and there is room for everybody,” said Williston resident Ladd O’Brien.

After the hearing ended, Macaig indicated there would be no vote on the proposal and the crowd streamed out the room. The board then informally talked about prospects for changing the ordinance before concluding there was no rush.

“Since the hunting season is over except for muzzle loaders, there’s not a lot of urgency,” Macaig said.

Any substantive change to the current proposal would require yet another public hearing, said Town Manager Rick McGuire.

A final comment by board member Jeff Fehrs crystallized why a seemingly modest ordinance change created such a divisive debate.

“I’m always going to put residents’ safety over hunters’ rights,” Fehrs said. “I’ll sit through more ugly public hearings if I have to to protect public safety.”

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CVU kicks off budget season

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By Rachel Gill
Observer correspondent

On the opening night of Champlain Valley Union’s budget season, all eyes were on the areas of operations and maintenance and information technology services.

The first pass at the 2008-2009 budget began on Nov. 26 with the first of what will be a series of seven work sessions.

Bob Mason, chief of operations for Chittenden South Supervisory Union, started the meeting by explaining how this year’s process will be different from previous years.

In the past, all CSSU boards started with a budget that incorporated all possible program, personnel and miscellaneous cost additions. Through the budget process the boards then discussed what to keep and what to cut.

Mason said this year the board will take last year’s budget and make adjustments, such as meeting contractual obligations and current operating costs, to arrive at a baseline budget.

Mason said all CSSU boards approved the change in the budget process during their retreats last summer.

“This is part of a district wide effort to make the budget process clearer and more transparent,” Mason said.

This year CVU is starting with a baseline budget of $20.6 million.

Mason also explained that figure reflects the minimum amount needed for the school to maintain the same quality of services as last year without any program changes.

The board’s next step is to focus on individual elements to either add or subtract from the baseline budget.

To start the new budget process, CVU Principal Sean McMannon presented this year’s operations and maintenance budget requests. Currently, the operations and maintenance budget request is hovering at just over $1.2 million, a $32,000 decrease from last year. Despite the overall decrease, numbers may change because of a request for a full-time grounds position not yet factored into this year’s figures. According to the operations and maintenance budget request report, the position could add $33,000.

Jeff Tobrocke, CVU Chittenden House director, presented the budget requests for information technology. This year’s proposed technology budget is currently $524,000 – less than last year’s $544,000 budget – but is expected to increase by $70,000. School officials said $63,000 of the increase will fund the lease of copier-printers.

The remaining $7,000 will help purchase equipment or software requests submitted by teachers, although the full cost of the requests would likely exceed the money available.

School officials said the requests are currently under review by the technology committee, which is expected to submit its decision on Dec. 10. Changes to the technology budget have not been approved and are also expected to go before the board at its next meeting.

For more information on this year’s budget process visit the CSSU Web site at www.cssu.org. The next CVU budget work session is scheduled for Dec. 10 at 7 p.m. in CVU Room 172.

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Report says to hold off on community center

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Taxpayers seen as unlikely to approve funding

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Residents want a community center but won’t support a tax hike – at least not in the near future – to pay for it.

So concludes a new report that considers the need for a much-discussed facility that could serve as a central gathering place for teens and seniors and host community functions.

An eight-member task force compiled the report, gathering information from a variety of sources over the past year. The group included representatives from the Selectboard, Planning Commission and Recreation Committee as well as town staff and three community members.

After polling voters, holding a public hearing and interviewing residents, the task force learned that Willistonians liked the idea of having a community center.

But it also found out that there was little support for higher taxes to fund a facility that could cost millions to construct and thousands more in annual operating costs. Instead, the task force thought Williston could get by with existing public spaces for the time being.

“I think the committee believed that one is needed in the community eventually,” said Town Manager Rick McGuire, who served on the task force. “Just not yet.”

The community center envisioned by the task force would accommodate both seniors and teens and would include shared meeting rooms, storage, a kitchen and space reserved for each group. To serve those needs it would contain 3,000 to 6,000 square feet.

The report estimated the facility would cost $1.5 million to $2 million to build based on today’s construction costs. The task force acknowledged that a more accurate estimate would depend on many variables yet to be determined.

A voter-approved bond could fund the facility. Susan Lamb, Williston’s finance director, said the town is currently repaying slightly more than $8 million in bond debt, most of it for the new fire and police stations. Under state law, municipalities can carry debt equal to 1 percent of its grand list. In Williston’s case, Lamb said, that debt ceiling equates to about $12 million.

But it is doubtful that voters would approve more bond debt, the report said. The task force based its conclusion on previous votes rejecting the school budget and an ambulance service as well as comments from residents.

“The task force was unanimous in feeling that the capital construction costs for a community center, if it were built now or in the near future, should not come from taxes,” the report said.

Instead, the task force recommended a fund-raising campaign to pay for part or all of the construction. The report suggests that the community might be more receptive to paying for the facility in about five years, particularly if it was created by expanding Dorothy Alling Library or Allen Brook School or if it was partially funded from private sources.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

The task force was initially divided on the ideal location for a community center. The group eventually decided that the village would be the best site because of its proximity to the town’s two schools as well as other services such as the library.

In fact, one of the possibilities discussed by the task force was a library expansion large enough to accommodate a community center. Task force member David Yandell said that would dovetail nicely with the many programs already offered by the library and allow the use of existing library staff to help operate the community center.

Other locations discussed were the Williston Armory and Allen Brook School. The school location also could be built as part of an expansion, a long-discussed idea with an uncertain future given stagnant enrollment.

The task force discovered that community groups were making do with public spaces scattered around Williston. Those spaces include room at the police and fire stations, Town Hall, Allen Brook and Williston Central schools, the Vermont National Guard Armory and the library.

But the report acknowledges that many of those spaces are less than ideal or have limited availability. They are often shared with multiple groups and include no storage.

Recreation Director Kevin Finnegan said that poses a problem for ongoing activities. For example, he said a monthly teen coffeehouse once held in the basement of the Old Brick Church was popular. But organizers had to spend hours setting up before each session, then carting away gear when the event ended.

Still, the report said groups can find space. It noted that the town is developing an online system that should help community groups find and reserve space.

“There didn’t appear to be a desperate need for a serve-all community center at this time,” said task force member Carroll Lawes.

DOWN, NOT OUT

Though the report said the town can wait for a community center, it noted that demographic trends will force the town to act in the next several years. The state’s aging population will mean more seniors, who will drive demand for additional space.

“The task force concluded that there is not a pressing need at the present time, but within 5-10 years the town will need to respond – particularly to the needs of senior citizens,” the report said.

The report was presented to the Selectboard on Monday night. McGuire said the board had many questions and wondered what the task force thought the town should do next.

Exploring opportunities for private funding, locating a site, obtaining permits and constructing a building will take years, Yandell said. That means the town should get going immediately.

“We don’t need it right now, but we might need it in the future,” he said. “So it’s important for us to start planning right now.”

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Anti-war protest targets recruiting center

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Thirteen arrested at office in Maple Tree Place

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

A student protest against military recruiting on Friday ended with a noisy occupation of the Vermont National Guard office in Williston and arrests of 13 anti-war demonstrators.

The protest at Maple Tree Place involved about 75 people, including high school and college students as well as demonstrators opposing the Iraq war.

Protesters brandished signs, chanted slogans and shouted through bullhorns during the two-hour demonstration at two recruiting offices in the busy retail center. A few protesters confronted military members. After nearly an hour, police warned protesters that they would be arrested if they did not end their sit-in at the Guard office. Thirteen demonstrators, including three juveniles, were cited for trespassing, said Williston Police Chief Jim Dimmick.

Students at Mount Mansfield Union High School organized the protest, which evolved from efforts to rid their school of recruiters and to prevent the release of student information to the military. Among the organizers was Phoebe Pritchett. She said in an e-mail that she was pleased with how the protest went.

“I think our action was very successful,” she said. “We voiced our discontent with current recruiting practices and the war in Iraq, and no one got recruited at either of the offices while we were there.”

The students had sought advance publicity and contacted other anti-war groups. The organizing effort resulted in a raucous but non-violent war protest, the largest of its kind in recent memory in Williston.

At about 3 p.m. protesters massed near the Best Buy store and marched in formation toward the shopping center’s green. Their initial target was the combined recruiting office for the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines on the east side of the green.

But protesters found a locked door and a darkened office. They satisfied themselves with taping protest signs to the office’s front window and door.

“Education, not occupation,” they chanted in unison, “military out of our school.”

More soon joined the demonstration, which spilled from the sidewalk onto the street. Then someone noticed the National Guard office across the green and protesters began streaming toward it.

About three dozen demonstrators entered the storefront office while others stayed outside. Some plastered more protest signs – most with slogans, one with a graphic photo portraying war dead – on the walls. Others milled about the office or tried to engage military personnel in debate. One man read a list of Iraqis killed in the war.

Police presence was evident from the outset, and it grew to include personnel from the numerous area law enforcement agencies. Eventually, Dimmick told demonstrators they had to leave the Guard office or be arrested.

Some left immediately, and others drifted outside over the next few minutes. Williston Police Sgt. Bart Chamberlain stood guard for a short time before locking the door.

The crowd outside grew more excited, peering through the window and pounding on the plate glass window, which shook but did not break.

Meanwhile, officers inside began writing citations. Dimmick said protesters were then given a chance to leave, but they instead remained seated in a circle. Police dragged them out a rear door and into a waiting van, where most were taken to the Chittenden County Sheriff’s Office for processing. Three juveniles were cited and released.

Differing reasons for the protest

The combination of youthful demonstrators and what Dimmick called “professional protesters” produced a group with diverse views.

South Burlington resident James Leas, for example, identified himself as a member of the National Lawyers Guild. Leas said he wanted to ensure demonstrators’ First Amendment rights were upheld. He confronted Guard members and police, at one point asking Dimmick, “How did you get to be (the military’s) spokesman?”

Matt Howard of Iraq Veterans Against the War said he supported the students’ effort to end military recruitment in high schools. But he was also there to oppose the war.

“I want them out of the schools, I want them out of Iraq,” he said. “This war is based on systematic lies told by everybody from the Bush administration on down to recruitment personnel.”

Many of the students were taking tentative first steps in exercising their free speech rights. A few admitted they were able to attend the protest, which started before classes finished for the day, because they got permission slips from their parents.

Eliza West, 16, of Richmond, said the protest was exciting. She said she would continue demonstrating “until my mother picks me up.”

The students were upset about military recruiting practices, particularly a provision of the No Child Left Behind Act that requires high schools to release the names and phone numbers of students to recruiters. They circulated a petition signed by 171 students and teachers at Mount Mansfield Union asking members of Vermont’s congressional delegation to change the law.

Vermont National Guard spokeswoman Kate Irish declined to comment on the protest. She did say those at the recruiting office were not in a position to address issues raised by the demonstrators.

“They are there to carry out policies that have been enacted, not debate them,” she said.

Word got out about protest plans in the days leading up to the event. Dimmick said police met with organizers in advance to ensure they could exercise their free speech rights without affecting nearby businesses or creating safety hazards. But he said when they occupied the building and became disruptive, police had to act.

“We didn’t want to make arrests,” Dimmick said. “We have a great deal of respect for their First Amendment rights. But with those rights come limits.”

Pritchett saw things differently. She noted in her e-mail that protesters did not damage property or jeopardize anyone’s safety. They simply wanted to make their views heard.

“The point of our action was not for a bunch of people to get arrested,” she said. “The point was to express our discontent with misleading recruiting and the war in Iraq, a cause for which people were willing to accept any consequences to deliver our message."
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