Looking back at 2009 (1/7/10)

Jan. 7, 2010

For Williston, 2009 was a year of ups and downs.

Amid a recession, the town and schools managed to rein in spending to limit tax increases for residents. Champlain Valley Union High School finished renovations on its auditorium that came in well under budget. And Williston learned that the Chittenden County Transportation Authority plans to bring bus service to the village in 2010.

Yet other stories, sad and shocking, also made the news. A beloved teacher suffered an untimely death in the spring. Weeks later, a Williston man was accused of drugging and molesting a teenage girl; more details continue to emerge from the case in 2010.

Good and bad, here are the top stories of the year:


Roundabout prompts petition

The town’s biggest controversy in 2009 involved a seemingly simple traffic improvement.

The Selectboard in March approved construction of a roundabout instead of a traffic signal at the intersection where U.S. 2 meets Oak Hill and North Williston roads. The decision provoked objections from nearby residents, on-and-off debate among Selectboard members and a petition seeking a town-wide vote on the issue.

The corner, now controlled by a four-way stop sign, has been plagued by rush-hour backups and fender benders. Because it is among the most crash-prone intersections in the state, the nearly $1 million roundabout project qualifies for 100 percent federal funding.

But opponents say the roundabout would hurt the historic charm and aesthetic character of the village. A total of 456 registered Williston voters signed the petition asking for the issue to be put on the Town Meeting Day ballot in March.

But under state law, the Selectboard is not required to include the roundabout issue on the ballot, and even if it does the vote on a roundabout would be nonbinding, according to Vermont Secretary of State Deb Markowitz.

The board has yet to approve a Town Meeting Day warning, but it must do so by the end of January to meet statutory deadlines.


— Greg Elias, Observer staff


Local man accused of drugging, molesting teen

In one of the more unsettling stories of 2009, a local man was accused of drugging and assaulting a 13-year-old girl. A subsequent investigation revealed that there may have been seven more victims.

On the night of May 30, Robert Kolibas, 50, allegedly drugged the teen and his daughter during a sleepover at his house. He then allegedly fondled the 13-year-old as she lay in bed. Police were alerted and began investigating, but before state prosecutors issued an arrest warrant, Kolibas fled to Maine. A Maine state trooper apprehended him on June 1.

Kolibas returned to Vermont later in the month and pleaded not guilty to three felony charges: lewd and lascivious conduct with a child, second degree unlawful restraint and giving a drug to a minor. Police said Kolibas put sedatives into a smoothie drink for his daughter and her friend the night of the sleepover. A urine test administered to the alleged victim after the incident showed signs of at least two drugs.

The investigation also revealed that Kolibas has been listed on the Florida sex offender registry since 1995 for distributing pornographic material to minors.

Investigators interviewed other possible victims throughout the summer and fall and searched cameras and computers seized from Kolibas’ home. In early December, Kolibas was charged with two felony counts of aggravated assault by administering a drug.

Police also say they found 16,000 images of child erotica on Kolibas’ computer and evidence that he engaged in online chats with underage girls. Furthermore, prosecutors revealed that seven other girls told police they’d experienced symptoms of being drugged after drinking smoothies during sleepovers at the Kolibas home.

A trial is tentatively scheduled for March.


— Tim Simard, Observer staff


Williston School Board chooses new configuration

After a year of debate, discussions and public forums within the community, the Williston School Board reached a decision for the future configuration of the school district.

At a meeting in June, the board voted unanimously for a configuration choice known as Option A. It was one of five options developed by the school administration and researched by the Williston Conceptual Frameworks Committee, a group of teachers, administrators, parents and community members.

Option A included many changes the community wanted to see in the school district: Possibilities for different grade groupings and individual grades housed in one school instead of split between two locations.

Next school year, students in pre-kindergarten through second grade will be located at Allen Brook School. Students in grades three through eight will be in Williston Central School. Currently, lower house teams of first through fourth grade students are located in both schools.

Upper houses teams of fifth through eighth graders will undergo changes, as well. Some houses will remain in four-year classrooms. Other classrooms will have just fifth and sixth grade students, while others will have only seventh and eighth graders.

The School Board is now compiling the 2010-2011 school budget, which will include costs of the configuration changes. Configuration costs are estimated at $32,000. District Principal Walter Nardelli told the board at its last meeting of 2009 that the number may decrease as figures are fine-tuned.


— Tim Simard


Bus service coming to village

The Chittenden County Transportation Authority won a federal grant in October that will bring bus service to Williston Village.

The $2.1 million grant will fund expanded service in Williston and Milton. The CCTA Board of Commissioners voted in October to provide an additional $150,000 in funding to fully implement the route changes.

The planned additions include a new route that runs along U.S. 2 directly from downtown Burlington to Williston. It will replace the existing service, which circles the Taft Corners area before continuing onto Essex Junction or South Burlington.

The changes will reduce waiting and travel time. Currently, riders in Williston must transfer at the University Mall to reach Burlington.

Plans call for buses along the new route to run at 15-minute intervals during commute hours. And during morning and afternoon commutes, buses for the first time ever will stop in Williston Village.

Schedules and other details have yet to be finalized, although plans call for keeping the link between Williston and Essex Junction, said Meredith Birkett, CCTA planning manager. Public hearings on the route changes will be held next month.

The new U.S. 2 route is expected to begin in June.


— Greg Elias


Teacher passes away unexpectedly

On April 25, popular teacher Al Myers passed away, bringing shock and sadness to the Williston community.

Myers fell from a ladder the night of April 23 while preparing the Williston Central School auditorium for the “Wizard of Oz” musical. He was 57.


    File photo
Al Myers, a former teacher at Williston Central School, poses as captain of the Champlain Valley Reenactors, a local group of Civil War enthusiasts. Myers unexpectedly passed away in April when he fell from a ladder in the school’s auditorium.

Myers taught at Williston Central for 36 years, joining the school after graduating from the University of Vermont. He taught grades five through eight, eventually joining Swift House when the school’s house system was created.

Myers was a longtime member of Burlington’s Lyric Theatre, serving in many roles for more than 30 years. He also served as captain of the Champlain Valley Reenactors, attending Civil War reenactments up and down the East Coast. Three weeks prior to his death, he led his unit on training drills at Williston Central School.

In the days after Myers died, students, staff and parents remembered him fondly. Messages poured into a tribute Web page on Facebook. While Myers’ family held a private funeral, a public celebration of his life, with more than 700 community members, took place at Williston Central School on May 16.

Since his death, Myers has been honored with recognition by the Vermont Legislature, a memorial tree planting outside Swift House and an “Aw Shucks” award from Connecting Youth.


— Tim Simard


Auditorium renovated at CVU

Despite a stumbling economy, Champlain Valley Union High School was able to renovate its auditorium for well under projected costs.

The 40-year-old space was not improved when CVU underwent major renovations in 2003 and school officials found the auditorium to be significantly out-of-date. Performers worked on an uneven stage, with an orchestra relegated to a tiny loft to the right of the stage. The auditorium also needed better catwalks and a safer electrical system.

Beginning in June, crews from Berlin-based Summit/Catamount Construction tore up much of the auditorium space and began installing new features, including an orchestra pit in front of the stage. Workers built a new stage and installed a system of catwalks. A larger, updated sound and light booth was added to the auditorium.

The project also came in significantly under budget. Plans initially called for construction to be completed over two summers, at a cost of $2.5 million. But when bids for the project came in at $1.4 million, the CVU School Board decided to complete the project in one summer.

As students returned to school in September, the auditorium was nearly complete. The public got its first taste of the new space at school’s fall musical, “Pirates of Penzance, BVI.”


— Tim Simard


Odds and ends

• Neil Boyden, after spending 24 years as Williston’s public works director, retired from his post. Boyden announced in July that he planned to step down, and left his position in the fall. The town received 36 applications from candidates seeking to replace Boyden. Ultimately, the town hired Bruce Hoar, who was serving as the public works director in South Burlington.

• Williston Police Chief Jim Dimmick retired on Dec. 1, more than a year after suffering a stroke in July 2008. As Dimmick’s condition improved, he worked part-time with the department until late 2009. He had been with the Williston Police Department since April 2006. Before that, he spent 28 years with the Vermont State Police. Town officials are seeking his replacement.

• The mother of the young girl molested for several years by convicted sex offender Mark Hulett pleaded guilty in November to a felony charge of accessory to sexual assault. Cherie Hyde is scheduled to be sentenced next month, and faces two to 10 years in prison.

• A Williston man was sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison for violent assaults against his girlfriend in 2007. Kaseen Smith started serving his sentence in December for two counts of aggravated domestic assault on his former girlfriend. Testimony heard during the sentencing hearing detailed Smith’s years of abuse of his girlfriend and legal wife. Smith was already in jail, serving a sentence for attempting to disarm Williston Police Officer Mike Lavoie shortly after Smith was arrested in conjunction with the assaults in 2007.