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Board approves career center study

BARRE — The Barre Unified School Board has blessed a plan to spend $25,000 in surplus funds on a study that could lead to the eventual relocation of the Central Vermont Career Center.

Or not.

In an era of shrinking enrollments, evolving workforce needs, and a lingering moratorium on state aid for school construction, how best to deliver career technical education in central Vermont is a question the just-approved study will attempt to answer.

It won’t be the first study on the subject, as a career center that is under new management for the second time in its 50-year existence continues to consider its future.

Built as a 41,000-square-foot addition to Spaulding High School in 1969, the career center, which opened as the Barre Regional Vocational-Technical Center, was originally overseen, along with Spaulding and a network of now-closed neighborhood schools, by the Barre City School Board. A couple of name changes and two mergers later, oversight of the center shifted from the now-dormant Spaulding High School Board to the Barre Unified board on July 1.

Four members of the new nine-member board, including Chairman Paul Malone, were serving on the Spaulding board in April when a consultant hired to complete a previously authorized study delivered that 56-page “pre-conceptual” report.

That report was financed using $15,000 in surplus funds authorized by the Spaulding board nearly a year ago.

The money was used to hire Michael Deweese as part of a process designed to re-envision what the career center does and possibly how and where it does it.

Penny Chamberlin, the career center’s veteran director, told members of the Barre Unified board that Deweese’s work was the first step down an unfamiliar path that will require additional studies.

“There has never been a needs assessment or a feasibility study to look at … what students want, what (the) community wants, what parents want, what the industry is looking for, what post-secondary (education) is looking for,” she said, suggesting Deweese’s report laid the groundwork for a feasibility study advocated by members of the center’s regional advisory board.

That board includes representatives of several area high schools — including Spaulding — that send students to a career center that has been the subject of a long-running discussion.

Though Chamberlin said decoupling from Spaulding and constructing a new center at a different location remains an option, so does operating out of the current facility and shifting to a different delivery model.

“It’s time for us to really take a data-driven look at what we offer ... what’s needed and then how to move forward,” she said.

Chamberlin warned it won’t be an overnight exercise.

“It’s not an easy process to do,” she said. “It’s not quick.”

Under the best-case scenario, Chamberlin said the bidding process can be completed in time for a contract for the work awarded in January. She said that would allow for work on what will likely be a six-month study to start in February and wrap up in August.

Chamberlin said the study would be conducted by a yet-to-be-selected consultant working with members of a yet-to-be-recruited committee. She said the latter panel would would include a “diverse group” of stakeholders, from board members, parents and students to professional educators to prospective employers.

Chamberlin urged the board to approve her use of $25,000 in surplus money to evaluate essential questions raised in the report delivered by Deweese.

Those questions included how a re-envisioned career center “… can be re-branded and innovatively lead Vermont as a modern and valuable partner with schools in its service region in the education of students?”

Other questions include how a re-envisioned center could aid students in achieving their post-secondary aspirations, while addressing the workforce development needs in the region.

Underlying those questions is another one — whether the center at its current landlocked location is sufficient?

Chamberlin said the dated facility can’t be expanded to accommodate new programs and is poorly designed for some of the programs it already has. However, she said, the feasibility study wouldn’t look at siting or financing a new facility even if it recommends one.

The design phase would be the next step in the process, if there is one, and construction and implementation would come later.

A year ago, the regional advisory board balked at an architect’s unsolicited offer to see construction of a new center through the conceptual design phase for nearly $90,000.

Board members agreed that offer was premature, and Chamberlin said it was shelved.

“That hasn’t gone anywhere,” she said. “It couldn’t. There’s no data behind it.”

The study approved by the Barre Unified board could change that and Chamberlin defended the use of surplus money to cover the cost.

“I think we’re at a place where we could actually use some of those funds to figure out what we’re going to do for the next several decades,” she said.

david.delcore @timesargus.com

Jpkuckens / Josh Kuckens / Staff Photo  

Gaming Away

Ben T. Matchstick, top, begins the planning of a new campaign with aspiring adventurers at the first meeting of the Dungeons & Dragons Club at the TW Wood Gallery in Montpelier on Monday. The club will meet from 3 to 5 p.m. every Monday.

Herring to host public safety forum

BARRE — Granite City residents with questions or concerns about public safety are encouraged to attend a Thursday night forum at the Elks Lodge.

Mayor Lucas Herring, who started the tradition last year, said he sees value in bringing a range of people — from the city’s police and fire chiefs to the county’s prosecutor — together to update residents and field any questions they may have.

“It’s a good chance for people to get information,” Herring said of the two-hour forum, which is set to start at 6 p.m. at the Elks Lodge on Jefferson Street.

Herring will handle introductions and provide an update involving a sustained effort to establish “neighborhood watch” programs throughout the city.

What started 18 months ago with a meeting to gauge interest in forming new neighborhood watches, briefly involved recruiting for two well-established groups — one on East Parkside Terrace and the other on Tremont Street.

Herring said those early sessions turned into a series of organizational meetings — 28 in all — in other Barre neighborhoods.

Some of those sessions were better attended than others, but Herring said he walked away with a contact number from each of them and several have embraced a program that encourages neighbors to keep an eye out for each other and call police when something seems amiss.

With a handful of exceptions, Herring said meetings have been held for residents in every neighborhood in the city and support has been offered to those that have opted to create neighborhood watches.

“The neighborhoods that want to keep them going have,” he said.

Meetings haven’t yet been held for residents on North and South Main streets, as well as Camp Street. Due to its proximity to the downtown, Herring said the city is considering adding Summer Street to a watch created by Barre merchants.

Herring said Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault will provide an overview of trends in cases handled by his office and ongoing efforts to combat drug crimes. He will also provide an update for his two-year strategic plan for the county.

Police Chief Tim Bombardier has been asked to provide an overview of calls handled by his department, staffing levels, and the launch of the city’s street crimes unit late last year. Bombardier is also expected to discuss recent drug overdoses.

Now more than a year into his second stint as Barre’s fire chief, Doug Brent will update residents on the status of the department.

Rounding out the public safety panel assembled by Herring will be Jeannie MacLeod, executive director of the Barre Community Justice Center, and Michael Sweeney from the state Department of Corrections.

MacLeod will brief residents in attendance on the range of programs and services — from restorative justice panels to transitional housing — the justice center provides. That list includes an assistance center — the Starting Point — that it operates out of its Keith Avenue offices.

Herring said he has asked Sweeney to provide an overview of the number of people under corrections department supervision that are currently placed in Barre, as well as corresponding staffing and supervision levels.

While each member of the panel will come with something to say, Herring said all will be available to field questions from residents as part of what he hopes will be a well-attended program.

david.delcore @timesargus.com

Norwich University to celebrate bicentennial

NORTHFIELD — Norwich University celebrates its bicentennial with homecoming events this week and a salute to President Richard Schneider, who will step down after 28 years leading the oldest and only private military academy in the country.

The university and the town of Northfield will be the focus of a roster of activities and celebrations from Wednesday through Sunday for alumni and guests, many of which will be open to the public. More than 6,000 people are expected to attend ceremonies and events, doubling the population size of the town.

The bicentennial is the culmination of a five-year Forging the Future fundraising campaign to raise $100 million for new construction and renovation of campus facilities and boost the university’s endowment fund. Construction included the new $24 million Mack Hall dedicated a year ago — a 58,000-square-foot, four-story learning center with a high-tech, cyber-security war room, interactive classrooms, study spaces, pocket lounges and a 400-seat auditorium and performing arts center.

Another $25 million paid for renovations to Webb, Dewey and Ainsworth halls; $8.5 million was spent to renovate Kreitzberg Library; and additional funds built a Bicentennial Staircase near the Sullivan Museum in honor of trustees, donors and students, and improvements to the Upper Parade Ground.

This year, undergraduate enrollment is about 2,400 students with about two-thirds of students in the Corps of Cadets and the rest in civilian programs.

“The fact that Norwich has hit its 200th anniversary is a big deal,” said Diane Scolaro, associate vice president for alumni relations and bicentennial celebrations. “So, we’re very proud and excited that we have this milestone to celebrate.”

Scolaro noted events of interest for the public on Thursday include campus tours from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the ribbon-cutting for the new Centennial Stairs, from Goodyear Hall to the Upper Parade Ground, at 4 p.m.

“When Norwich turned 100 back in 1919, there was a set of stairs constructed at the north end of campus called the Centennial Stairs, and it has the names of 42 people who were influential for the first century of development at Norwich,” Scolaro said. “For the bicentennial, we’ve constructed another set of stairs at the south end of campus with 78 names of people who have made a difference in our second century.”

On Friday, major events for guests during the celebrations will include dinner for 1,200 people at Shapiro Field House and for another 1,700 people at Kreitzberg Arena. Both events will be followed by a fireworks display at 9 p.m. that is open to the public and best-viewed from the Shapiro Field House the Haynes Family Stadium.

Events on Saturday that are open the public include the Alumni Parade and Corps of Cadets Review on Sabine Field at 9:30 a.m.; Five NU fall sports teams’ games, beginning at noon; and the traditional rivalry football game against Coast Guard Academy at 1:40 p.m.

On both Friday and Saturday, between 11:30 a.m. and 7 p.m., the Bicentennial Block Party will be held in downtown Northfield, on Central Street between Main and Washington streets. There will be a dozen food trucks and a beer tent, with live entertainment on Saturday, from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“I feel that Norwich is a good community partner,” Scolaro said. “The facilities here are made available to the Northfield community and we feel it’s very important that Norwich be a good community to the people of Northfield.”

Scolaro said many other cities and towns in central Vermont would also welcome Norwich students and returning alumni.

“The goal of this was to get Norwich poised for its third century and to make sure that it is programatically, academically up to par with many other schools,” Scolaro said. “That was President (Richard) Schneider’s intent: to leave Norwich as the best education facility that he possibly could, so that’s been the bulk of this campaign.”

For Schneider, the bicentennial marks the end of an era for him that began in 1992 and will close when he steps down in May next year. Schneider raised the university’s endowment from $8 million to about $220 million during his tenure.

A national search for his successor is expected to lead to an appointment in the new year.

“Our goal with the bicentennial, beyond raising the money for the facilities and celebrating this milestone, is telling Norwich’s story,” Schneider said. “I believe, as an institution, it’s been very humble in telling its story over the last 200 years.

“Its alumni are also humble and the kind of people who do what needs to be done without expecting any glory for it. So, the bicentennial is a great opportunity for us to get out and let people know the diversity of the programs.

Schneider said NU’s history and evolution began with the founding of the school in 1819 by Vermonter Alden Partridge and the move of the campus to Northfield after a fire in the main barracks in 1866 after the Northfield fathers offered the college 14 acres of land to rebuild.

More importantly, he said, was the Partridge’s desire for experiential learning that led to students being steeped in practical learning.

“He taught them botany, crop rotation, banking, hydraulics, bridge building, irrigation, surveying — these were things that the country needed to spark the industrial revolution,” Schneider said.

Schneider noted that it was military cadets that helped build much of the infrastructure that fueled the Industrial Revolution in America.

“Most of the railroads in America were built by Norwich engineers and most of the locks and waterways in America were built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from West Point,” Schneider said. “So, we were the two schools providing America’s infrastructure, really, during the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.”

Norwich is also where the Reserve Officer Training Corps started, in 1916.

Today, Scolaro noted, Norwich is helping build the digital equivalent in cyber-security infrastructure with its programs in combating cybercrime.

“Now, we’re training not to build the interstate system that Norwich had a big part in, but the cyber internet highway,” Scolaro said.

Scolaro said Schneider would be a hard act to follow.

“That search committee has got their hands full trying to find somebody to take Norwich into its third century,” she said.

Schneider and his wife, Jaime, plan to retire to a camp on Lake Dunmore, near Middlebury, and spend more time with family, including 15 grandchildren.

For information about bicentennial events, visit http://bicentennial.norwich.edu/

stephen.mills @timesargus.com


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Meditation Concert

30-minute meditations to live music performed by cellist Emily Taubl. The doors open at noon, and audience members will find a seat and begin a period of silent meditation. free, 12-1 p.m. Vermont State House, Cedar Creek Room, 115 State Street, Montpelier, info@capitalcityconcerts.org, 802-793-9291.