May 15th, 2008
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.
By MEGAN JAMES
MIDDLEBURY — A group of Middlebury College students hoping to overhaul the college’s nearly 20-year-old sexual assault policy is finding the administration is also ready for change.
Junior Aki Ito has been working with students, faculty and administrators drawing up a proposal to update the school’s policy, pushing for more preventative approaches to sexual violence and a more extensive support system for students who have experienced it.
“When you look at the handbook, it talks about what sexual assault is at Middlebury and how you can decide to proceed with a judicial proceeding, but it doesn’t talk about what that specifically entails,” Ito said. “What we want is every single step mapped out. We want a document that says if you’re sexually assaulted, these are the things you want to do, and then list every single thing that’s going to happen.”
But Ito and her team want more than a chapter in the college handbook.
They are proposing everything from mandatory attendance to a freshman orientation show that looks at dating, sex and rape on college campuses, to implementing a system to anonymously report sexual assaults, to hiring a response team that would handle every aspect of a victim’s recovery, including counseling and gathering evidence, should that person choose to press charges.
They are modeling their proposal after programs and policies they’ve found at other colleges, particularly Bowdoin College and Lewis and Clark College.
Last year the college’s Department of Public Safety received two reports of forcible sex offenses and the year before it received four. But students say many more incidents go unreported. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, less than 5 percent of college student rapes are reported to authorities.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Leaders of the Vermont State Craft Center at Frog Hollow (VSCC) are working diligently on a plan to wipe red ink from the organization’s ledger and put it on a strong financial foundation for the future.
Deidre Healy, recently hired as Frog Hollow’s executive director, confirmed last week the 37-year-old, nonprofit arts organization is seeking to raise $200,000 within the next six months to shore up a budget deficit and help meet ongoing operating expenses. She added her board of directors later this year will announce a $1 million fund-raising campaign to invest in Frog Hollow’s staff, educational resources, facilities and other measures to ensure the operation’s future survival. The VSCC currently consists of galleries and a wide range of educational programs in Middlebury, Burlington and Manchester.
“Frog Hollow has had a challenging few years, and we are committed to restoring the organization,” said Healy, who attributed the VSCC’s current financial problems to a “perfect storm” of events — highlighted by a downturn in the economy that has seen revenues slump.
This revitalization effort will not come in time to save the VSCC’s Manchester gallery, however. The VSCC established that gallery two years ago at 4716 Main St., but it has thus far failed to pay for itself. The gallery will soon close.
“The decision was a fiscal one,” Healy explained. “Fiscally, it just wasn’t performing. So we will focus our efforts in Middlebury and Burlington.”
Healey stressed the VSCC’s scheduled programs in Manchester will continue through the summer. The organization is working with other institutions to host some offerings, and has not ruled out re-establishing itself in Manchester in the future.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — The fate of Middlebury Union High School’s student newspaper hangs in the balance as organizers wait to see if journalism class will be offered at MUHS next year.
And even if journalism class does makes the cut for the 2008-2009 course lineup at MUHS, leaders of The Tigers’ Print said they are apprehensive about putting out a newspaper they said is now carefully screened — posing the prospect of censorship — by school administrators before it is published.
“I think it’s kind of up in the air,” MUHS English teacher and journalism instructor Timothy O’Leary said of The Tigers’ Print and the school’s journalism program.
The Tigers’ Print was reinvigorated two years ago, after a hiatus of a few years, by three local parents who restarted the paper as a high school club activity. They formed an alliance with the Addison Independent, which published the paper pro bono for that first year within its regular Thursday publication roughly once a month.
The effort was successful enough that the high school administration incorporated The Tigers’ Print into a journalism class within the English department worthy of a full credit. The paper is written and assembled by about a dozen students in the class — mostly seniors — who usually spend one Sunday a month pulling it all together before the week of publication. It has continued to be published in the Independent this past school year on a monthly basis.
By JOHN FLOWERS
SALISBURY — Addison Central Supervisory Union (ACSU) officials will soon offer some recommendations on reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in district schools.
The recommendations are being developed in response to a parent’s inquiry into how the Pledge is being observed at the Salisbury Community School. Sal Morana, whose daughter attends the Salisbury school, brought the matter to local school directors’ attention earlier this year out of concern that not all students were being given the opportunity to recite the Pledge each morning. He learned that the Pledge was being offered regularly in some classes, but not in others.
“Those kids should be offered the opportunity to say the Pledge every day,” Morana said. “Here we are in a rural, agricultural town with kids who may grow up to join the military … and it was surprising to me (there is no Pledge policy).”
Morana shared his views last month with the Salisbury school board and ACSU Superintendent Lee Sease. Since then, Sease acknowledged he has received more than 75 e-mails from people weighing in on the Pledge, most of them in favor of its observance in ACSU schools.
“There is support for the Pledge of Allegiance and recognizing patriotism,” said Sease, who has discovered the ACSU has no uniform policy or guidelines on the Pledge of Allegiance. He noted some ACSU schools have a student recite the Pledge over the intercom; others leave it up to individual teachers or confine it to special events.
“While this issue has come up in Salisbury, I don’t think approaching this from a single school standpoint makes much sense,” he said.
By MEGAN JAMES & CYRUS LEVESQUE
ADDISON COUNTY — Only about 70 percent of high school students in the United States graduate in four years with a regular diploma, and about 1.2 million students drop out every year, according to a new report issued by America’s Promise Alliance.
By that standard, students in Addison County are doing exceptionally well.
Over the last five years the dropout rates at the four local high schools — Middlebury Union High School, Mount Abraham Union High School, Otter Valley Union High School and Vergennes Union High School — have all gradually fallen or hovered around already tiny percentages.
Counselors and administrators at all four local high schools credit some of their success in keeping youngsters in school to the fact that they address the different learning styles of students in different ways. Catching potential dropout students early on and engaging them in alternative education programs allows students to learn in nontraditional ways and offers them a sense of belonging in a different community, said MUHS guidance counselor Mark Thuma.
“The kids who feel disenfranchised with our system can find that sense of community with an alt ed program,” Thuma said.
Vermont kids start out in school with one advantage — geography. The Alliance’s report, which was based on school district data from the 2003-2004 school year, found that students in suburban and rural public high schools are more likely to graduate than their counterparts in urban public high schools, only about half of whom receive diplomas.
Local students have it even better. The most recent data from the 2005-2006 school year shows MUHS, MAUHS and VUHS all below the state average of 2.85 percent, and OVUHS just a hair above it.