Interim Chamber director announced
The Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce board of directors has unanimously chosen former NeighborWorks of Western Vermont executive Mary Cohen to take over interim leadership of the Chamber, as of April 4. Longtime Chamber CEO Tom Donahue has left the Chamber to take over leadership of BROC-Community Action in Southwestern Vermont. Chamber Board President Dave Correll expects the Board to take two to four months in assessing the Chamber’s direction before deciding on a permanent leader. That leader might be Cohen. “I can’t rule that out,” Correll said. During her six years at NeighborWorks, Cohen had been operations director and director of the homeownership center. She led the organization’s revitalization campaign in the Northwest Neighborhood of Rutland City. In addition to her work on a number of area non-profit boards, Cohen has a background in realty and retail management.
Donahue’s new gig
Former Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Tom Donahue has begun a new career, heading up BROC-Community Action in Southwestern Vermont. He closes out a 21-year run leading the Chamber as many projects reach fruition: improvements at the airport and bringing more rail accessibility to Rutland, moving the Chamber offices downtown and into a collaborative work environment with the Downtown Rutland Partnership and Rutland Redevelopment Authority, and completing what many say is the most successful annual business show yet.
Donahue said he is excited to “help take BROC to the next level,” utilizing the relationships and collaborations he has developed through the Chamber. The bi-county non-profit helps low-income residents develop new skills, enter the job market or start small businesses, and pay for heat.
Working for the Chamber was one form of community development. Donahue sees his new job as another form of community development, covering two counties and serving a low-income demographic.
Part of the job is also filling up BROC’s large building at 45 Union St. in Rutland. The former Green Mountain Power Engineering Building, erected in 1900, contains 23,948 square feet of office space.
Aldermen play musical chairs
As he enters his second year of chairing the Board of Aldermen, William Notte has “shuffled” the heads of numerous committees. The switch-around began with Alderman Thomas DePoy requesting to quit chairing the Public Works Committee in favor of his previous chairmanship, that of the Recreation Committee.
Granting that request (influenced by DePoy’s third-in-place aldermanic seniority), Notte began swapping committee leader positions. Displaced Rec Committee head Melinda Humphrey now leads the Charter and Ordinance Committee. David Allaire vacates the Charter and Ordinance chair, although he remains head of Public Safety. Ed Larson picks up leadership of the Public Works Committee. Matt Bloomer steps into chairing the Finance Committee, a seat opened when Christopher Siliski vacated the chairmanship. Notte appointed Humphrey, veteran Sharon Davis and newly elected Vanessa Robertson—all three of the Board’s distaff members—to the Public Safety Committee, noting that safety “involves more levels than from a man’s perspective.”
Remaining in the same chairmanships they occupied the previous year are Gary Donahue as head of the General Committee and Sharon Davis as chair of the Community and Economic Development Committee.
I [Heart] Rutland
Awesome Graphics owner Mike Napolitano spent March 30 handing out pizza and bumper stickers bearing the slogan “I [Heart] RutlandVT” as a kickoff for a civic pride campaign. Too much is said about Rutland’s negatives and not enough about the positives, Napolitano said.
Green Mountain Power vice president of customer care and fellow Rutland booster Steve Costello helped Napolitano develop the campaign, also sponsored by Castleton University. He described the project as a way to change “how we talk about Rutland.”
Bumper stickers “are and will continue to be free,” Napolitano said. Enthusiasts may pick them up at his 77 Woodstock Ave. business. T-shirts bearing the slogan will soon be for sale through the website iloverutlandvt.com; proceeds are to benefit the Wonderfeet Kids’ Museum. Both website and the Facebook page are to feature “Heart of Rutland” entries by local photographer Donna GoodHale, containing photographs of Rutland enthusiasts as well as their words of support.
Solar power, godly purpose
St. Peter Roman Catholic Church, 134 Convent Ave., began using power from its 30-panel solar array on March 2. Officials say the solar installation will supply 100 percent of electricity used by the pastor residence and parish offices in the building next door.
The $46,000 project was partially funded by $20,000 in grants from Green Mountain Power and $6,000 from SameSun of Vermont. The parish has already raised $9,000 in pledges toward paying off the expense.
The 150-year-old parish has already made other steps to save energy, improving insulation in the friary and using LED bulbs in the church itself. But it’s the diocese that owns the property, so the solar installation required approval from the Catholic Diocese of Burlington.
Credit for the project and the energy saving measures is largely due to Joseph Barbagallo, parish finance committee member and Central Vermont Public Service retiree. Barbagallo expects project payback to be complete in about seven years, with the end result being 20 years of free electricity to follow over the array’s estimated 30-year lifespan.
Phil Allen, SameSun co-owner, noted that the historic friory’s slate roof was “off limits” for a solar array, and that the church was careful to be a good neighbor to area property owners, adjusting the location and adding fencing. St. Peter is the second church in Rutland to acquire solar power. Good Shepherd Lutheran Church on Hillside Road was the first Rutland church to install on-site solar. It received a $20,000 Green Mountain Power grant designated for non-profit organizations installing solar capability in 2013.
Youth wrestling comes to Rutland County
WALLINGFORD—Former wrestler, coach and mentor Tom Jones is gathering interest for the Wallingford Wrestling Club, newly opened at 34 Maple St., Wallingford, next to Family Dollar. As managing member, Jones sees the enterprise as an “evolving club,” open year-round as a site for students from nearby schools to train.
Affiliated with USA Wrestling, the club accepts young people for a $26 annual fee that makes them members of the national organization, paying a $25 monthly fee. Members receive training, coaching, and opportunity to practice with other students. Castleton University is adding a wrestling program this fall, Jones notes. He is reaching out to coaches at local high schools to help them develop young competitors. Schools that have successful wrestling programs often can trace their success to the benefit of having year-round wrestling clubs, he said. To find out more, call 558-2024.
Westside tackles derelict property
WEST RUTLAND—The West Rutland Select Board is entering a discussion most recently heard in connection with Rutland’s Northwest Neighborhood: what to do with a decaying vacant dwelling owned by absentee landlords. Neighbors on both sides of the property, Fran Lloyd and Wayne Withington, are concerned that the seemingly abandoned property at 203 Ross St. is a danger to the community. They have appealed to the Select Board, the town zoning administrator and the town health officer.
The town’s grand list ascribes the property to Philip and Melissa Bartlett, but neither resides in West Rutland now. On a .18-acre lot, it was appraised for $81,700 in 2014. Although the barn roof has collapsed and the house seems to be deteriorated beyond repair, Kim and Wayne Withington had sought to buy it at a tax sale but the apparent title holder redeemed it less than two months before the title could be transferred, according to Kim Withington. She noted that someone put a tarp on the roof at that point.
Town Manager Mary Ann Goulette told the Select Board at its March 28 meeting that the Bartletts are the legal owners of the property, although the zoning officer has sent a violation notice to Citi Financial. The Rutland County Sheriff’s Department also made contact with one of the property owners on March 30, Goulette said.
The town is issuing zoning violations to the property owners. If complaints are not corrected within seven days of the violation service, owners are fined $200 per day per violation, Goulette explained, adding that town lawyers are working to renew a dangerous building ordinance.
Lloyd and Withington say the house has attracted not only opossums and feral cats but also possible vagrants. Lloyd is especially concerned about the effect in property values on the street.
Act 46 inclusion gets sticky
Rutland Central Supervisory Union, comprising Rutland Town, Proctor, and West Rutland schools, had asked Poultney to join its Act 46 study committee to weigh merging with them. Poultney is like West Rutland and Proctor in that all three operate schools for pre-K through grade twelve, but Rutland Town offers only pre-K through grade seven.
Seeing the similarity, Poultney voted in February to join the Rutland City Act 46 study committee. But when the time came for the Rutland central committee to accept Poultney as a voting partner, Rutland Town representatives said they felt all the issues had not yet been resolved.
Rutland Central has already met with Ira and Middletown Springs representatives. Still not settled is how to comply with the law’s requirements without forfeiting loss of town schools or school choice. Rutland Town representatives would prefer to conclude their discussion with those two schools before entering into discussions with Poultney.
Because the Act 46 committee membership vote counts are based on population, Poultney would receive four votes on the committee, with three for West Rutland and three for Proctor. Rutland Town would receive five.
Another possibility is a an informal relationship between Middletown Springs and Rutland Town. Act 46 has thrown the proverbial monkey wrench into that possibility—a merger would require either Middletown Springs to start offering middle school or Rutland Town to close its middle school. Middletown Springs is feeling a pinch to reach a resolution, according to chairman Clarence Haynes; if there is no resolution soon, his district faces the loss of $80,000 in Small Schools grants. Rutland Town fears being swallowed by Rutland City, while Middletown Springs fears the same of Rutland Town, he observed.