May 27, 2018

Blank sells Majestic 10 share

Majestic 10 co-owner Harold Blank has sold his share of the Majestic 10 Theater in Williston, along with Palace 9 in South Burlington, to Merrill Theater Corporation, owned by Blank’s partner Merrill Jarvis.

“When you sum it all up, it’s just that the timing was right,” Blank said on Monday. “I love the Majestic 10. It’s a great theater, and it will continue to be a great theater.”

Blank said he plans to get involved in film production projects, some of them in the Burlington area, and didn’t want to spend as much time commuting to Vermont from his home in Massachusetts.

The theater space is leased from Rental Properties of America. Merrill Theater Corporation will also take over the space occupied by Oscars Restaurant, which closed after the summer.

“Merrill Theater Corporation will do what they think is right with the space,” Blank said.

Jarvis could not be reached for comment before the Observer’s press deadline.

The Majestic 10 opened in April 2004.

“In my opinion, it’s the best theater in the best location,” Blank said.

Stephanie Choate,
Observer staff

Turf fields to be explored for CVU

CVU soccer players stride off the field after a muddy game this fall. (Courtesy photo by Mitch Lieberman)

Observer staff

Student athletes, parents, coaches and taxpayers—many of them in Redhawks red—crowded into the standing-room-only Champlain Valley Union School Board meeting last week to propose a plan to upgrade the school’s athletic fields.

A rainy fall highlighted drainage issues on the fields, rendering them unplayable and forcing many home games and practices to be moved elsewhere. As a growing number of games were relocated, a group of approximately 25 community members gathered to look into methods to improve field conditions—particularly, installing synthetic turf fields.

“Almost every sport in the school has been moving their practices and games,” Chris Farrington, president of the CVU football booster club and spokesman for the group, told the board on Nov. 14. “It’s not a lot of fun to play a home game in St. Johnsbury or Burlington.”

The group hopes to move forward on some of the recommendations of the Gale report, a comprehensive study issued by the board and released in September 2011. The study recommended refurbishing the school’s five fields and installing one synthetic turf field with lights and bleachers.

At the Nov. 14 meeting, Farrington, speaking for the group, proposed replacing two of the current fields with synthetic turf fields, with amenities including lights and bleachers on one of the fields.

Farrington said members of the group had done extensive research, and were confident that the two turf fields could be installed for roughly $2.6 million—approximately $1 million less than if the board acted on everything recommended in the Gale report.

He also proposed several funding options.

The first would be to bond the entire project. The second, to bond the cost of the fields and fundraise for the amenities. The final option is to split the cost, bonding half the project and fundraising for the remainder.

Farrington also noted that turf fields could bring in revenue through admission and rental fees. Turf fields would also open up the possibility of hosting tournaments and championships, bringing additional revenue the school, as well as businesses in town.

Burlington, South Burlington and Rutland high schools currently have at least one turf field.

South Burlington High School, which installed a turf field in 2004, charges $150 an hour for the use of its turf field, and $200 an hour for night use, activities director Michael O’Day said.

“It’s a lifesaver in many regards,” O’Day said. “The problem is we only have one and everyone wants it.”

Several CVU board members expressed support for functional and safe athletic facilities, but were also mindful of budget constraints.

Board member Jeanne Jensen noted that even if the board opted against turf fields, the fields would still need approximately $1.2 million worth of fixes to be brought back to working order, since it’s clear that the drainage system is “broken.”

“If we’re going to have fields, they’re going to have to be replaced,” she said. “… If we do decide to go for it, what I think we need to do is look at all the options.”

Board Chairman David Rath suggested putting together a committee to work with members of the group to further explore the turf field option and ways in which the project can be implemented.

“I certainly have been struck by the energy and enthusiasm this group has brought to this concept,” he said.

On Nov. 19, the board voted to have its facilities committee work with representatives from the community group to explore the options and come back with a report to the board.

Bellwether book drive reaps volumes of support

Bellwether School teacher Angie King and her students enjoy the pajama-clad comfort of ‘Hunker Down Day,’ following a successful student book drive that collected approximately 400 books for Burlington’s King Street Center. Pictured (from left to right) are Nevin Morton, Kian Reagan-Caer, Benjo Torres, Ira Siegel, Braden Francis, Talia Gibbs and Dominic Petrarca. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Angie King’s class of seven kindergarteners and first-graders may have been dressed in pajamas Friday morning, but naptime was the furthest thing from their minds as they sat in a semi-circle in a corner of The Bellwether School.

The PJs were in celebration of “Hunker Down Day,” marking the end of Literacy Week at Bellwether, a holistic education school located on South Brownell Road in Williston.

But King’s class was in no hurry to see Literacy Week end, preferring to talk about the recent student-initiated book drive which collected donations for King Street Center in Burlington.

“We had read ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,’ and in the book, Charlie doesn’t have a lot of money, and he doesn’t really have books and he doesn’t really have food either,” King said. “So we were talking about if everybody in the world has enough books … and we researched it a little and we found that everyone doesn’t have books in their homes.”

The students had their own perspectives on the initiative.

“We were excited to help other people,” said Ira Siegel.

“We ended up having 400 books,” stated Nevin Morton.

“I felt afraid. I loved lots of my old books,” added Benjo Torres.

Despite the trepidations of Benjo and other Bellwether students to part with their beloved works of fiction, the approximately 400 books either donated from their personal libraries or gathered through community outreach are now part of the literary cache at King Street Center, a multi-functional educational facility that serves a large number of immigrant and refugee families.

“The gift of books was much appreciated,” said King Street Center Executive Director Vicky Smith. “It was wonderful.”

King said the success of the book drive is a product of The Bellwether School’s holistic approach to education.

“The principles I try to teach by are making meaning and making magic, because that’s what kindergarten and first grade are all about,” King said. “They’re still so young that the world has so much magic and possibility, but they’re also starting to make some big connections and making meaning of the world that they’re in.”

Bellwether Head of School Debbie Millon agreed that the creative autonomy granted to the students was pivotal to their enthusiasm for the project.

“It came from them. That’s the key,” Millon said. “To allow the kids the freedom to take that curriculum where they want, that room has been alive with their own excitement.”

Spark Academy highlights need for math and literacy support

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Williston Central School’s Spark Academy, an extended day program that offers afterschool core curriculum and enrichment learning to struggling students, launched roughly two months ago with seven instructors and around 30 students.

According to math intervention teacher Kathy Rossier, it has been a resounding success thus far.

“There’s a waiting list of kids who are clamoring to be in this program. It is not a punishment,” Rossier said. “Those kids that we get in the Spark program after school are more relaxed. There’s not a schedule … It’s almost like it’s not school.”

Rossier was joined by WCS intervention teachers Joan Beato and Leah Joly at the Williston School Board’s Nov. 14 meeting. Beato, who focuses on literacy intervention, explained that Spark Academy is related to but separate from WCS’ existing Tier II literacy and math intervention programs.

“Students who join us are close to or slightly below proficient in the local district and state assessments,” Beato said. “The model that we run is small groups—the smaller the better, between four and six students. … It is important to remember that the Tier II is in addition to classroom instruction.”

According to data provided at the Nov. 14 meeting, 101 students in grades 4-8 receive Tier II literacy support, compared to 61 students in grades 3-8 that receive math support. Among students receiving literacy support, 87 percent are in grades 4-6. No eighth-graders receive Tier II math support.

“There’s not enough hours to reach everyone, and the research says the earlier you can grab these kids, the better,” Rossier said. “I think we would agree that the younger kids should be getting the intervention, as research shows.”

Williston District Principal Walter Nardelli suggested that staffing for math and literacy interventions is something the board should consider during its budget-making process.

“One of the things we have to look at is we have resources on every (WCS) house, and if that’s not meeting the needs, then we’re going to have to rethink how we’re staffing completely, and if that’s not enough intervention, then we’re going to have to change it,” Nardelli said.

Beato, in parting, told the board that if it can’t find enough money in the coffers for additional full-time staffing for math and literacy interventions, it should consider increasing para-professional staffing.

“I would say that in Tier II, the more para-professionals we have, the better,” Beato said.

Medical marijuana debate blazes on

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

The Williston Selectboard tackled the question of medical marijuana dispensaries Monday, following three debate sessions by the Williston Planning Commission that ended in a 2-2 deadlock on Nov. 6, with two commission members advocating for the prohibition of dispensaries in Williston, and the other two members maintaining that they should be allowed but be subject to town oversight.

As Williston Director of Planning and Zoning Ken Belliveau recounted at the outset of Monday’s Selectboard meeting, although Vermont law has mandated that a maximum of four medical marijuana dispensaries may operate in the state at any one time, individual municipalities are granted the authority to regulate or prohibit such facilities.

The board also heard from Dr. Adrian Webb, the lone Williston resident in attendance. Webb, who introduced himself as a psychiatrist with 30 years of experience treating drug abusers, disagreed with the opinions of the two Planning Commission members who were quoted in the Observer as opposing medical marijuana dispensaries.

“Basically, I was a little concerned about the printed comments which I felt were somewhat naïve in the Williston Observer, if they’re to be accurate, with regard to what happened in the Planning Commission—naïve from the perspective of who would be utilizing these clinics,” Webb said. “I would like to think you go into this with your eyes wide open as to what it may be utilized for. There is indeed a deserved population with multiple sclerosis, with cancer, who need appropriate management of severe nausea.”

Selectboard Deputy Chairman Jeff Fehrs suggested that personal predilections about marijuana should be set aside when considering a medicinal product that has been conditionally approved by the state legislature for medical use.

“There are certainly various things that are sold in Williston that we give licenses for that I would rather not, but the powers that be, our legal system, have decided that they are legitimate products and they should be allowed to be sold, and that’s always been my guiding light if we give a license to somebody selling tobacco, for instance,” Fehrs said. “So I’m wondering if I’m missing anything in my thinking about how we should approach medical marijuana and personal bias, for or against.”

Selectboard member Chris Roy, while not specifically disagreeing with Fehrs, pointed out that medical marijuana is not under the jurisdiction or control of the Federal Drug Administration, and thus carries with it risks unique from alcohol, tobacco or FDA-regulated prescription drugs sold at pharmacies.

“One distinction with a pharmacy is your typical prescriptions are all controlled substances, so there actually is a whole layer of federal regulation governing pharmacies and how those materials are handled, where they come from, how they’re shipped, who can sign off for them, who can dispense them, who can prescribe them; so there’s a whole federal overlay that enforces that—which isn’t the case with medical marijuana,” Roy said. “Quite the contrary, the federal government treats marijuana as a controlled substance that’s illegal, period.”

Selectboard Chairman Terry Macaig proposed that the topic be revisited in greater detail at a later date, with input requested from both the Vermont Department of Public Safety and Williston Police Department.

His suggestion was met with approval by the other board members and Dr. Webb.

“I’m pleased that you’re going further to gain more information and not shooting from the hip here,” Webb said.

CVU athlete spurs ‘unprecedented’ support for Brick Church concert

Vocal trio The Blue Gardenias are backed by jazzmen Tom Cleary on piano, John Rivers on double bass and Caleb Bronz on drums during a Friday night performance at the Old Brick Church. (Observer courtesy photo by Dave Yandell)

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

The Old Brick Church, built in 1832 in the heart of Williston’s now historic village, is no longer a place of worship. Unless, that is, you’re a devotee of the Great American Songbook, in which case Friday night was a cause for veneration.

The occasion was the second installment of the 2012-13 Brick Church Music Series, featuring vocal triumvirate The Blue Gardenias, with accompaniment by the Tom Cleary Trio.

Cleary, who brought his accomplished jazz piano chops to last season’s Brick Church Music Series, is the husband of Amber deLaurentis, who forms one-third of The Blue Gardenias with fellow songsters Juliet McVicker and Taryn Noelle.

Joined by bassist John Rivers and drummer Caleb Bronz, Cleary opened with “Simone,” a jazz waltz by tenor saxophone journeyman Frank Foster, presumably written in homage to musical chameleon Nina Simone.

But unlike most Brick Church concerts, which typically feature an opening act separate from the featured performers, Cleary and company were quickly joined onstage by the Gardenias, whose serpentine harmonies weaved fresh life into the old standards “The Glow-Worm,” “Jeepers Creepers” and “Just You, Just Me.”

While the majority of the program consisted of standards in the jazz idiom, the highlights of the evening were a pair of countrified ballads: “Long Black Veil,” a 1959 Lefty Frizzell hit later immortalized by 1968 recordings from both Johnny Cash and The Band; and Karla Bonoff’s paradigm of 1970s California folk-rock “Home,” which deLaurentis introduced as “one of our favorite songs.”

The ad hoc sextet also broke out some original material in the form of the Cleary-penned “The Girl That the Song Is About”—inspired by such kitschy pop classics as Petula Clark’s “Downtown,” The Association’s “Windy” and the theme song from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”—and a three-song suite from what Cleary termed “an imaginary musical” about Depression-era bank robber Pretty Boy Floyd.

Friday’s concert was hosted by the Champlain Valley Union High School varsity hockey team, with proceeds benefiting Camp Joslin, a summer camp located in Charlton, Mass. for boys with Type 1 diabetes between the ages of 6 and 16.

The evening’s cause took on added significance by the presence of CVU hockey captain Alexander Bulla, a Camp Joslin alumnus who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes six years ago and will serve as a camp counselor next summer. Prior to the concert’s second set, Bulla addressed the nearly 70 attendees.

“I think the best thing I’ve done in my life is go to camp and realize that there’s other kids that are similar to me out in the world,” Bulla said. “Without going to Joslin, I wouldn’t be where I am today, because it really gave me the confidence that I’ve carried with me through my academics and outside school life.”

Mark Bissell, a Richmond resident who serves as director of Camp Joslin, also spoke during intermission. Like Bulla, Bissell has Type 1 diabetes and wears an insulin pump.

“We’re here to educate and empower these kids with insulin-dependent diabetes to still live normal and healthy lives,” Bissell said. “What we try to do in the week to three weeks the children stay with us is to educate them on nutrition, on exercise and on insulin management, and the main thing that we do is really to try to give these kids a feeling of normalcy.”

Brick Church Music Series co-organizer Dave Yandell told the Observer in an email that he credits the “unprecedented” level of sponsorship and community support for Friday’s concert to the participation of Bulla and other members of the CVU hockey squad.

“The average person does not realize what it’s like to be a high-functioning athlete in intense sports like ice hockey but also diabetic. When the other kids are warming up before the game, Alex is checking his sugar in the locker room,” Yandell wrote. “I think the reason so many businesses and individuals have stepped up to sponsor this concert is because of the hockey team connection and Alex’s role as captain this year. People want Alex to know we all respect and admire the example he sets for his teammates, and for others.”

The Brick Church Music Series will continue Dec. 21 with the holiday choral group Maple Jam. Other upcoming concerts include Americana band After the Rodeo on Jan. 18 and jazz from the Bruce Sklar Trio on Feb. 15. The series will conclude with performances by the Vermont Youth Orchestra on March 15 and the Bluegrass Gospel Project on April 12.

Police seek public’s help

The Williston Police Department is asking for assistance from the public in helping to identify a man who was seen committing a lewd and lascivious acts. On Nov. 14 at about 3:45 p.m., a woman was walking along Old Stage Road in Williston when a man driving an older model red SUV pulled up next to her. When the woman looked at the driver, he was seen exposing and touching himself. The man was described as being in his 20s, medium to slender build, fair skin, with nearly shoulder length blonde hair. On Nov. 12, two similar incidents occurred. The first happened at about 11:30 a.m. A woman was walking on Marshall Avenue between Leroy Rd and Boyer Circle, when a man driving an older model red/maroon Jeep Cherokee (approximately model year 1999) pulled up next to her. When the woman looked at the driver, the male exposed himself and then fled the area.

The second incident occurred in the parking lot of Home Depot at about 11:45 a.m. A man approached a woman and proceeded to knock several items out of her hands. He then went to help pick up the items, but instead took an “inappropriate” photo of her and fled the area.
In both cases, the man is described as a white male, early 20s, 5’9” tall, skinny, some facial hair, wearing a tan winter (knit) hat and a tan plaid shirt/coat. If anyone has any information about any of these incidents, please contact the Williston Police Department at 878-6611.

The Williston Police Department is also searching for a suspect seen in a Home Depot surveillance video.


PHOTOS: St. George Schoolhouse

Workers load the St. George Schoolhouse onto a trailer on Nov. 8. The schoolhouse moved to its new location near the town offices after months of permitting delays.  

Observer photos by Kelsey Walters

Courtesy photos by Ginger Isham


Observer photos by Luke Baynes

THIS WEEK’S POPCORN: “Wreck-It Ralph” A Tale to Build a Dream On

By Michael S. Goldberger

Special to the Observer


It was Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, who offered that “The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.” But I think it was my Uncle Ignacz who opined, “Morality is originally taught in the animated films of Hollywood.” True or not, numerous funny examples abound in director Rich Moore’s “Wreck-It Ralph.”


Safely recuperating in a warm Catskill movie house after fighting the cruel ravages of     the very unladylike Hurricane Sandy, I was tossed among the tots, moppets and urchins generally delighted by this novel paean to the video game. And in all honesty, I think I laughed more than the little viewer to my left, a look-alike of the film’s female heroine.


But my tacitly adopted, cinema barometer doubtless was much hipper to the jive. As she animatedly rocked to the colorful, music-filled adventure about Wreck-It Ralph, a video game villain who wants to be a good guy, and Vanellope Van Schweetz, an ill-treated, would-be race champion, I could only speculate what marvelments she saw that I didn’t.


A stranger in a strange land, an Alexis de Tocqueville visiting and observing in the realm of the kiddy flick, I guessed at the countless, actual video game characters who essentially supplied credibility to the fictional scenario. Wary of getting lost in the minutiae, I nonetheless made connections and learned the language as best I could.


And I can only hope I’m a better man for it, the ethical lessons taught in Wreck-It Ralph’s sojourn to self-fulfillment having at least somewhat rubbed off on me. The fine voicing by John C. Reilly as the title character, Sarah Silverman as the diminutive gal he befriends and Jane Lynch as the head honcho in another game make it all come alive.


Act #1, Scene #1, Ralph explains his plight to his group therapy cohorts. He doesn’t want to be the bad guy anymore. But after the venting ends Ralph is back to the grind in Fix-It Felix, Jr., destroying everything in sight and fated to ultimately be bested by game namesake Fix-It Felix, a handyman with a golden hammer and the perennial hero.


However, as is oftentimes proved in these cartoon cells, the heart is a lonely hunter and the ego needs to be fed. Figures Ralph, if he’s stuck in this microchip caste system, with no chance of ever getting the shiny medal he so longs for, he may as well immigrate to another game and try his chances there. The big lug washes ashore at “Hero’s Duty.”


There, where Jane Lynch’s Sgt. Tamara Calhoun commands deadly force and leads the way in a never-ending battle against the Cy-Bugs that threaten the video game world, he becomes a soldier of fortune. Challenged but undaunted, he fights the good fight. But the real epiphany comes when, loping through the arcade universe, he meets exile Vanellope.


Decried a glitch, the outcast is to the other gal racers in “Sugar Rush” what Rudolph was to his fellow reindeer…barred from their games. This makes for a catch #22. You see, to free herself from the electronic curse, she must cross the finish line. But fat chance if disingenuous King Candy (Alan Tudyk), who sounds like Ed Wynn, has his evil way.


Happily, after a sizing-up tussle when Wreck-It Ralph first lands on Ms. Van Schweetz’s square, a scene reminiscent of Robin Hood’s initial meeting with Little John, the odd couple find a commonality. It’s a familiar variation. If you were casting a live action version back in the day, Wallace Beery could play Ralph to Shirley Temple’s Vanellope.


In any case, forming a camaraderie that refuses to relinquish its chiding component, the two set out to build the ultimate race car…one that hopefully will enfranchise the winsome waif. Constructed of confections—I think those wheels are cookies—as is all of Sugar Rush’s infrastructure, one can only venture the number of hypothetical calories.


The tutorial in morality, tolerance and optimism is obvious. And while no substitute for lessons that should be instilled at home, like chicken soup served to cure a catarrh, it couldn’t hurt. Equally present but far less accessible unless you’re a video game fanatic are the innumerable send-ups, references and cameo appearances of arcade royalty.


Thus a disconnect exists between fairy tale and the ode to gamers. But then again, the odyssey through the folkways and laws of this world has its fascinations. Did you know that if you die in any game other than your own you can’t regenerate? So while “Wreck-It Ralph” is in need of repairs, it shouldn’t short-circuit gramps and junior’s plans to see it.

“Wreck-It Ralph,” rated PG, is a Walt Disney Motion Pictures release directed by Rich Moore and stars the voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman and Jane Lynch. Running time: 101 minutes



Strong finishes at New Englands for cross-country

Taylor Spillane, seen here at the Vermont State Championships finish line. (Courtesy photo by Dan Grossman)

The Champlain Valley Union High School cross-country teams put in strong performances at the New England Championships last weekend, as the season draws to a close.

Both teams will head to the Nike Cross Northeast meet in two weeks.

The CVU girls cross-country team finished third, and was the top Vermont team. The boys came in thirteenth, the second Vermont high school.

CVU’s top harrier Taylor Spillane took the number two spot, completing the challenging 3.1-mile course in 19:03.11. She finished behind Elle Purrier of Richford High School. Autumn Eastman finished at number eight with a time of 19:22.68.

“Taylor Spillane finishing 2nd was the best result of any girl I have ever coached and Autumn Eastman finishing 8th was great,” Coach Scott Bliss wrote in an email to the Observer. “To have two girls in the top 10 was pretty awesome.”

Julienne Devita was 88th with 20:58.82; Abby Keim 96th with 21:04.14; Aleksey Jordick 108th with 21:13.22; Carly Neeld 158th with 21:44.82; and Emma Putre 191st with 22:17.5.

Autumn Eastman

Barrington High School in Rhode Island took the top spot, followed by Coe-Brown of New Hampshire.

The boys’ finish at number 13 was “the best result in a number of years,” Bliss wrote.

CVU’s top finisher on the boys side was Nick Bouton, who finished 98th with a time of 17:52.54. Jared Keyes was 114th with 17:59.61; Zach Marshall 121st with 18:02.6; Clarke Shedd 127th with 18:05.04; Sean Delaney 131st with 18:08.13; Will Kay 158th with 18:22.1; and Chase Weaver 166th with 18:25.42.

Nick Bouton

The New England meet came two weeks after the CVU girls team won the Vermont Division 1 State Championships in Thetford and the boys were runners-up.

“We have had a great season and most of the team goals were met,” Bliss wrote. “The girls winning the state championship and the boys finishing 2nd at States and making New Englands was exactly what we wanted to do.”

Though several seniors, including Spillane, will graduate this year, Bliss said he hopes to keep building on this year’s success.

“We have a number of talented freshmen coming to CVU on both the boys and girls side,” he wrote. “We are hoping that they will come in to our program and start to contribute and help right away. I’m definitely excited for next year and the possibility the freshman and our returning JV runners helping to keep the program on a successful path.”

—Stephanie Choate,
Observer staff