Archive - May 15, 2008
By CYRUS LEVESQUE
LINCOLN — Even in the middle of a refugee camp in Iran near the border with Iraq, Tom Verner of Lincoln almost felt at home. “We just felt so warmly welcomed by the Iranian people,” Verner said.
Verner and his wife, Janet Fredericks, last month visited a dozen refugee camps and settlements in Iran with a delegation from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. While most of the group brought supplies or medical care to refugees displaced from their homelands by years or even decades of war, Verner and Fredericks came to entertain refugees with magic tricks and sleight of hand in performances for children.
Verner and Fredericks founded the group Magicians Without Borders in 2001, and have given shows in refugee camps, orphanages, schools and hospitals around the world, from India to Kosovo to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
To some, the idea of entertaining refugees seems to miss the point that the audience is in need of basic necessities like clean water and a roof over their heads. Verner said that one doctor on the April trip couldn’t understand the goal of Magicians Without Borders.
“I have a feeling he was … only thinking of these folks as bodies,” Verner said. “They also need hope and laughter.”
For many in Verner’s and Fredericks’ audiences, the camp or settlement was the only home they had known. Verner said that in some of the camps they visited, almost all the refugees were from Iraq and in others most refugees were originally from Afghanistan. And while many of those refugees were displaced by the current conflicts, Verner said that many others hadn’t seen their homes since the 1980s, when they were driven from them by the Iran-Iraq War or the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury residents on Tuesday, May 20, will be asked to approve local option taxes of 1 percent on sales, rooms, meals and alcohol as a means of generating revenues for a new, in-town bridge that would span the Otter Creek at Cross Street.
Middlebury officials are banking on the local option taxes to finance $7 million of the $16 million bridge project, which would link Main Street with Court Street as a means of reducing gridlock in the downtown. Middlebury College has agreed to bankroll $9 million of the project, through annual donations of $600,000 during what will be a 30-year bonding period.
It was on Town Meeting Day that local residents authorized bonding for the project and supported a charter change that would enable Middlebury to consider local option taxes. Tuesday’s referendum will allow residents to decide whether they want to now follow through and implement local option taxes for the next 30 years.
“My clear concern right now is that we get a good turnout,” said Middlebury selectboard Chairman John Tenny.
He added that after many months of planning and debating, town officials are now looking for residents to become “bridge builders.”
Local option taxes will be key if there is to be any bridge building because selectmen don’t want to lean on Middlebury’s already-hefty property tax as a means of financing the new span, which could open to traffic as soon as 2010. Selectmen have reasoned that local option taxes would be a reasonable vehicle for financing, as they would be borne — in great part — by non-residents who would use the new span and already use other Middlebury roads and bridges.
“Local option taxes give us the ability to fund and build a bridge without local property taxes and involve a larger surrounding community to pay for a project that helps that larger community,” Tenny said.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — National slump in the housing market?
Don’t expect to get that story from Connor Homes, a Middlebury-based manufacturer of colonial reproduction “kit” homes that has seen its sales triple during the past year.
“We are building something different here,” said Michael Connor, founder and CEO of Connor Homes. “Our little company in Middlebury, Vermont, I think is making a statement about how people ought to think about building their houses across the country.”
Connor said that pre-building homes in a controlled setting offers a process that is often more efficient and cost-effective than building from scratch on the site, and that his process can end up costing a client 20-percent less than the same home built conventionally.
In early 2007, Connor Homes was pre-constructing two or three houses per month in a rented, 14,000-square-foot headquarters on Exchange Street, houses that were then assembled on building sites throughout the country.
A year later, the company is now firmly settled in the former home of Standard Register on Route 7 South, a 115,000-square-foot building in which Connor Homes expects to crank out seven homes during this month alone.
The company’s workforce numbered 23 in 2007. It has mushroomed to 64 workers today, with more hires anticipated during the coming months.
“We have a waitlist of talented people,” Connor Homes Chief Operating Officer Holly Kelton said of the many carpenters, architects and other building specialists that have submitted resumes.