News Briefs

News Briefs: Rutland Region

By Lani Duke

State Fair makes membership change

The Rutland County Agricultural Society plans to chart the course for potentially significant changes. Under a provision approved in 2014, members will vote on whether to expel one of its members because he is a convicted felon. It allows an individual to be removed from membership if convicted of violent or sexual felonies if a minimum of 15 members sign a petition for removal, and two-thirds of the membership approve. The organization’s membership will also consider other changes to the group’s constitution which, originally approved in the 1850s, has been being gradually updated into the 20th century, with promises to consider changes to bring it into the 21st century next year, according to Roland McNeil, RCAS president. The 2015 proposed changes will open more lifetime membership slots for $100, while restricting voting privileges to those who pay $25 annual dues. The voting membership cap remains at 175. If more than 175 dues-paying members want to vote, RCAS will likely rely on seniority, McNeil theorized; currently, only 80 to 85 take part in elections.

Paying dues will show how serious members are about keeping the fair in operation, McNeil said. Amusements of America has already signed a contract to bring rides to the fairgrounds in 2016, and an anonymous, private individual is negotiating on making a loan to the organization.

Learning “on the house”

Stafford Technical Center students in construction, electrical and plumbing, and forestry programs have the opportunity to learn while they work on real construction projects, most recently building a two-bedroom house at 153 South St. The house they built sold in November for $160,000.

Stafford has been teaching building trades students in a hands-on approach since registering the Student Craft Corp. in 1978 as a non-profit building company staffed by its students. Back then, students learned as they performed repairs and renovations; transition to student crews building houses from foundation to finish began in 1990. Students have built a maintenance shed at Rutland Northeast Elementary School, a clubhouse at Rutland High’s Alumni Field and 14 houses since then. House sales have funded each subsequent project.

It takes industry-supported teamwork for local business people to make this training program successful. Local construction and real estate experts on an advisory panel guide construction technology instructor Jeff Fowler on sales trends and help find land. A licensed contractor draws up blueprints.

At that point, students begin learning by doing. They figure out the materials needed and construct exterior walls in the Stafford workshop, but the walls, trusses, and roofing are all installed at the building site. Students install wiring, plumbing, heating, and ventilation; drywall and paint. Forestry students provide landscaping, having learned to use minimal care vegetation that captures rain. Projects follow the trend toward energy conservation too; recent builds have earned Efficiency Vermont’s five-star ratings.

Incredible shrinking budgets

A second major portion of the Rutland City budget is less than originally anticipated. Earlier, the Public Safety Committee’s budget shrank when the erroneously added parking meter fund was removed, to the tune of $100,000. It’s the Recreation Committee’s turn. The clerical error was much smaller, however, only $22,916. The 2016-2017 budget is below that of the current year, at $19,336,617.

Bridges proceed apace

Be prepared for traffic delays in the Dorr Drive bridge area while crews install the new lighting fixtures. Contractors warn that one-way alternating traffic patterns may be necessary, with traffic control personnel on site to maintain traffic flow.

At the Ripley Bridge site, crews expect to pour the first half of the abutment on Monday, Dec. 7; after required curing, the second half will be poured Wednesday, Dec. 9. Backfill at the pier is scheduled simultaneously. In the meantime, the narrow, bumpy Bailey bridge is still in use.

Rutland Town

Small town hiring woes

Rutland Town’s highway commissioner Byron Hathaway faced a snow problem: specifically, how to get snow off the town’s roads this winter. Earlier in the fall, he anticipated that John Quirk would plow out the town as he had been doing for a number of years. But Quirk died unexpectedly Nov. 2. His company, Quirk Brothers Excavating Company, decided against continuing the long-standing agreement.

When the Select Board met Nov. 17, Hathaway told the Board that his son, B. J. Hathaway, had offered to take over part of the task after first discussing the matter at an early highway committee meeting. The town’s personnel manual forbids nepotism. Select Board member Mary Ashcroft told the Board strict adherence to an anti-nepotism policy doesn’t work in small towns because the people most likely to pick up contracts may well be relatives. Before the highway committee meeting ended, B. J. Hathaway told the group that the town apparently has repeatedly violated its own anti-nepotism policy by hiring family members within the fire department.

With the rapid approach of the holiday season and potential snow, a decision had to be made relatively quickly. Board Chair Don Chioffi was one of those who said they believed B. J. Hathaway should go through the hiring process; if the younger Hathaway were hired, the Board could then address the personnel policy.

In the period between the Highway Commission meeting and the Select Board meeting Dec. 1, Byron Hathaway was unable to find any other contractor interested in plowing the town’s roads, he reported. He gave the Selectmen a letter formalizing B. J. Hathaway’s application and listing the younger man’s credentials, including a University of Vermont bachelor’s degree and equipment handling and maintenance experience.

Rutland Town has always hired snowplow personnel as independent contractors, intentionally so, remarked Selectman John Paul Faignant, asserting that Byron Hathaway would not be direct supervisor for a snowplow contractor, but Chioffi disagreed. The other possibility would be having all highway department personnel trained to plow, he said.

After more discussions of nepotism policy, the board approved hiring the younger Hathaway, with Chioffi the sole dissenter.

Who’ll blink first?

Diamond Run Mall has offered to cease objecting to the construction of members-only grocery BJ’s Wholesale Club across Route 7 from the mall, in return for “a large amount of money” according to Gene Beaudoin, developer for project builder Saxon Properties. Mall owner BAI Rutland had appealed to the Vermont Environmental Court, complaining that an Act 250 permit granted in May erred by stating the new development conforms with 9L anti-sprawl legislation.

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