BARRE — Thanks to some creativity and a cooperative contractor, City Manager Steve Mackenzie has solved a six-figure problem that briefly threatened plans to construct a long-promised parking lot off Keith Avenue and a twice-delayed pedestrian way on Pearl Street.
Mackenzie said Tuesday he will execute the contract with DuBois Construction next week after trimming nearly $134,000 from the company’s low bid for the two projects, and work should begin as initially planned on June 24.
That was far from clear following a recent bid opening. All four bids far exceeded the engineer’s estimates for constructing the 104-space parking lot between Keith Avenue and Pearl Street, and completing the stalled transformation of Pearl Street from a narrow side street to a generous pedestrian plaza.
The best of the bids for the two projects — DuBois Contruction’s $879,000 offer — was nearly $100,000 more than Mackenzie anticipated, prompting him to request a meeting with the contractor to identify possible savings.
Mackenzie said the exercise worked, and rather than proceed with one of the projects and delay the other, both will proceed largely as planned.
According to Mackenzie, the single biggest savings — nearly $56,000 — involved the disposal of lightly contaminated “urban soils” that will be excavated as part of the parking lot project. Contractors, he said, were asked to include the cost of landfilling those soils unless the city could provide a state-approved alternative.
Though some hazardous soils associated with a long defunct dry cleaning operation will still need to be disposed of at a landfill, Mackenzie said the “urban soils” will now be trucked to a city-owned site near Hope Cemetery. That location, he said, has been reviewed and approved by the state Agency of Natural Resources, enabling the city to exercise the cost-saving bid option.
“That was big,” Mackenzie said, noting it trimmed DuBois’ bid to about $823,000 without much effort.
Working with the contractor and the city’s engineer, Mackenzie said the city was able to identify nearly $43,000 in additional savings associated with the parking lot portion of the jointly-bid project and an extra $35,000 tied to the pedestrian way. None of the changes will materially affect either project.
Mackenzie said the city will supply the sub-base that will be used in the construction of the parking lot for a savings of $19,600 and city crews will install parking meter poles, trimming an additional $8,750 from the budget. A decision to co-locate two electrical boxes will save $11,200 and a modified sidewalk plan will result in a reduction of $3,420.
Mackenzie said none of the adjustments proposed for the pedestrian way will be visible and a couple involve timing.
The city is saving $7,000 by extending the completion date from Aug. 16 to Aug. 23. The concrete slabs that will be used to construct the pedestrian way will be locked as required by the bid specifications, but the city will save more than $21,000 by using stainless steel pins instead of a more expensive alternative reflected in DuBois’ initial bid. The city will save an additional $6,000 by adjusting the thickness of the slab in some location.
According to Mackenzie, the city is now getting everything it wanted within the budget it had hoped. Due partly to the need to remediate onsite contamination, the parking lot is the more time-intensive of the two projects. That work is expected to take 10 weeks but should be substantially complete by Aug. 30.
Mackenzie had hoped the pedestrian way would be substantially complete by the time of the Barre Heritage Festival next month, but that may no longer be the case given the money-saving time extension.
WASHINGTON — Bernie Sanders on Wednesday mounted a strong defense of democratic socialism, the economic philosophy that has guided his political career, even as Republicans and some of his Democratic presidential opponents have seized on it to brand him as too radical.
Sanders’ speech, coming two weeks before the first debates of the Democratic primary, is his most aggressive attempt yet to reframe the conversation about his political views. His ability to define the debate around his core political philosophy will be crucial if he is to convince voters that his embrace of democratic socialism isn’t a barrier to winning the White House.
“Let me be clear: I do understand that I and other progressives will face massive attacks from those who attempt to use the word ‘socialism’ as a slur,” Sanders said. “But I should also tell you that I have faced and overcome these attacks for decades, and I am not the only one.”
Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, made a similar attempt in 2015 to explain the views that have shaped his ideology but have also become a significant political vulnerability.
But this year, the speech comes in a reshaped political environment, where Sanders is no longer the sole progressive taking on an establishment candidate as he was in the 2016 primary when he ran against Hillary Clinton. He’s now one of two dozen Democratic White House hopefuls, several of whom are also unabashed liberals, like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has been rising in the field.
And they’re operating in an environment dominated by President Donald Trump, who has called Sanders “crazy” and seized on some of the proposals that he and other Democrats are running on and portrayed them as outside the mainstream of most Americans’ views.
During Wednesday’s speech at George Washington University, Sanders said Trump “believes in corporate socialism for the rich and powerful,” while he believes in “a democratic socialism that works for the working families of this country.”
Sanders is fond of noting that many of his Democratic rivals now back policies he has championed, such as “Medicare for All,” that were seen as too costly and too liberal in previous elections. But few of the other Democrats seeking the White House share his support for democratic socialism.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who has jumped to the top of the Democratic field in part because of a perception that he’s the most electable candidate in the race, has derided the notion that politicians must be socialists to prove they’re progressive. Other liberal candidates, including Warren and Sen. Kamala Harris of California, have noted that while they have problems with the economic system, they remain capitalists.
And Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is also seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, plans to give a speech Thursday that his campaign is marketing as a rebuttal of Sanders.
Trump and his allies have, nonetheless, warned against the threat of socialism if a Democrat gets elected to the White House.
When Sanders entered the 2020 race in February, a spokeswoman for Trump’s campaign said Sanders had “already won the debate in the Democrat primary because every candidate is embracing his brand of socialism” and said Trump is the only candidate who will keep the country “free, prosperous and safe.”
On Tuesday in Iowa, Trump claimed Democrats will “destroy this country” and turn the U.S. into “another Venezuela.”
“Don’t let it happen to us,” Trump warned at an Iowa GOP dinner in West Des Moines.
Sanders last spoke in depth about democratic socialism in November 2015. In that speech, which was also held in Washington, Sanders similarly invoked the legacies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., arguing that democratic socialism was reflected in their priorities.
This year, he made the case that popular programs like the New Deal, Social Security and Medicare had been, at times, labeled by opponents as socialist.
He quoted former President Harry Truman, who in 1952 said, “Socialism is the epithet they have hurled at every advance the people have made in the last 20 years.”
And as he did in his first presidential run, much of Sanders’ campaign speech was focused on promising a wholesale revolution, including a fundamental rethinking of the political system. Asked in a telephone interview on Tuesday how he would tangibly change Washington’s centers of political power to make his visions a reality, he said he would do so “by taking politics out of Washington.”
“What the political revolution means to me, above and beyond democratic socialism, is getting millions of people who have given up on the political process, working people and young people, to stand up and fight for their rights. So those are the profound changes that we will be bringing about,” he said.
BARRE — The president of Central Vermont Medical Center told city councilors Tuesday night that the looming closure of a downtown primary care practice should be accompanied by a plan to provide transportation for patients who need it to the nearby Barre Health Center.
“That’s our goal,” CVMC President Anna Noonan said when pressed on the point by Mayor Lucas Herring.
Though only 1.1 miles separate Granite City Primary Care, which is located next to City Hall in the fourth floor of the historic Blanchard Block, and the CVMC-run health center on South Main Street, Noonan acknowledged the distance could be a challenge for some.
“We’re actively engaged in the conversation about how to provide transportation to those patients,” she said, noting there is time between now and September to work out those details as part of a recently announced consolidation.
“We feel like we’re pretty close to a solution that will be advantageous to them,” she said, referring to the 114 patients of Granite City Primary Care who currently walk to its accessible downtown location.
Noonan told councilors the solution — at least in the near term — likely won’t involve an alliance with Green Mountain Transit Agency (GMTA), which already provides public transportation in central Vermont. She said conversations with GMTA didn’t yield the hoped-for result and the CVMC was exploring other options.
Though Noonan was short on specifics, she said negotiations are underway and “taxi vouchers” remain a possibility. That concept, she said, has “some legal limitations,” but would be one way to solve what she conceded was a “challenge” with respect the consolidation plan.
Citing difficulty recruiting physicians to small practices, like Granite City, Noonan said maintaining the status quo was not a viable option.
“Sometimes change is necessary to ensure sustainability in communities we serve,” she said.
Herring and others on the council said solving the transportation problem was important given CVMC’s plans to close Granite City Primary Care on Aug. 29 as part of the consolidation plan.
Noonan’s visit came on a night when councilors again approved a pay raise for City Clerk Carol Dawes that exceeded her budgeted request. Councilors were also told the city is still on track to close the books on a soon-to-end fiscal year nearly $225,000 in the red.
Dawes defended her 2% request, noting some of it was the figure used for budgeting purposes and reflected a shift in responsibilities that accompanied the hiring of Finance Director Dawn Monahan.
Councilors ignored their six-term clerk treasurer and engaged in a brief bidding war involving her compensation.
Councilor Rich Morey proposed a 3% pay raise while Councilor Jeffrey Tuper-Giles proposed a 3.5% amendment that unanimously passed.
Based on the council’s action, Dawes’ annual salary — $57,636 — will increase by just over $2,000 to $59,653, instead of the more modest increase she requested.
Meanwhile, councilors were told that 11 months through a fiscal year that will end on June 30, Monahan’s forecast for a $224,000 deficit is still on track.
The good news?
City Manager Steve Mackenzie said that number hasn’t gotten worse since Monahan ran the numbers through three quarters.
“It appears to be holding steady,” he said.
Much higher than expected winter maintenance costs and overtime expenses at the city’s shorthanded police department are largely responsible for the projected deficit. It comes on the heels of a year when the city posted an operating surplus of $184,000 after retiring a cemetery deficit well ahead of schedule.
MONTPELIER — Competing in national TV contests has become something of a family affair for the Aldriches in the Capital City.
Most recently, Sue Aldrich was a member of Team Make It Maple in “The Great Food Truck Race” on The Food Network, which premiered Sunday.
The Aldriches are no strangers to national TV competition.
Sue Aldrich’s husband, Alex, the former executive director of Vermont Arts Council, was a quarter-finalist on the hugely popular “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” game show in October 2000, when he was finally knocked out but walked away with $125,000.
Sue Aldrich, who works as a realtor with Coldwell Banker in Berlin, was in an episode of HGTV’s House Hunters show in April last year as well. The show takes viewers behind the scenes as individuals, couples and families learn what to look for and decide whether or not a home is meant for them. Aldrich’s buyers, a couple from Boston, looked at three homes she offered, and eventually settled on one.
In Sue Aldrich’s latest foray into the TV contest world, she and her son, Charlie, 23, teamed up with family friend Paulette Fiorentino, of Montpelier, to compete against eight other food truck entries from all over the country, competing for a $50,000 top prize. The culinary beach battle, hosted by Tyler Florence, hits a different Atlantic seaside town each week for high-stakes food challenges that test contestants’ cooking chops, business skills and selling strategies. Each week, a team with the least in sales is knocked out of the contest until there is an eventual winner.
The rub is, for Team Make It Maple, they were knocked out in the first round but were nonetheless excited and energized to compete.
The two families have known each other for years because their children went to school together and would share meals together.
“There were many long evenings and dinners with the kids, and when food shows came on, we would discuss them as part of our daily conversations and try to figure out how to handle the different challenges,” Fiorentino said.
“At one point, we thought, wow, it would be fun and funny, if we tried out for one, never thinking we would get on — ever,” Aldrich added. “We just kept moving up the chain of interviews, and one of the producers said we were on their ‘love list’ to be on the show, and lo and behold, it happened, which was just crazy and fun. I think we were just so charming.”
Aldrich noted that she was the oldest of the contestants but paired with her young son. She said the team had no professional experience.
“But we’re funny and unusual in that we were two old ladies and a 23-year-old piece of eye candy,” Aldrich joked, adding that her son was outgoing and a good salesman.
“He brought the people to the truck — that was his job — and he sold it by way of mouth, chatting with teenage girls and older ladies,” Aldrich said.
Team Make It Maple had a hit with a maple hot dog and maple dumplings in the two-part round on the first day of the contest. The second part consisted of producing a superior Vietnamese maple chicken cilantro-glazed báhn mi sandwich. After day one of the contest, they were runners up in the first round.
But on day two, when they had to produce a dish with crab meat provided by The Food Network, they ended up being eliminated.
Aldrich and Fiorentino said they were surprised to be knocked out in the second day of the contest, despite being runners-up the first day.
“No one was more surprised than we were when we were runners-up with the vegan team (Sol Food Collective, of Los Angeles),” Aldrich said. “After that, we were feeling pretty cocky that we were going to go on to the next round.”
Aldrich said she believed the team made some “tactical errors” that led to their elimination from the contest. They included underpricing their food and making a báhn mi sandwich that was a too eclectic for buyers, who seemed more interested in comfort-style offerings by other teams.
“Myrtle Beach was just the wrong venue for that,” Aldrich said. “They loved the maple dogs and the maple dumplings but the báhn mi, with pickled vegetables, customers were like ‘What?’”
Fiorentina said, “It wasn’t carnival food.”
“It was also an expensive thing to make, so we used up a lot of our money, and it was labor-intensive to make, whereas the maple dogs and the maple dumplings were easy, and they flew out the window,” Aldrich added.
Regardless, the team members said they enjoyed the experience.
“We had a blast,” Fiorentino said. “We’ve never laughed harder.”
“We had a great time, it was experience, the other teams were phenomenally wonderfully, and it was a lark that we even there,” Aldrich said.
Aldrich and Fiorentino hosted a party at the Capitol Plaza on Sunday to watch the show — recorded in April — with family and friends when it aired for the first time.
Despite their lack of experience, competing with some professional teams, Aldrich and Fiorentino said they might consider another try.
“Maybe,” Fiorentino said.
“Always, we should definitely,” Aldrich said. “I think they should have a redemption round and have us and some of the other first-time losers come back and do another food truck race.”
“I want to do some small catering, and if I could get my hands on a food truck, I would absolutely do it,” Aldrich added.
The remaining Great Food Truck Race shows will air at 9 p.m. each Sunday through July 28 through to the finale.
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Climb Out of the Darkness
Awareness-raising event devoted to perinatal mental health. Community walk on the bike path to the Peace Park and back. Share your story and raise money for Good Beginnings. 10 a.m.-noon State House Lawn, 115 State St., Montpelier, firstname.lastname@example.org, 802-595-7953.