Monthly Archives: December 2009

Local music

by Bethany M. Dunbar     December 28, 2009

I am continually amazed by the quality and variety of live local music that it is possible to experience in Vermont.  I am no expert, but I do love to dance.  I grew up with the banjo and fiddle contests in Craftsbury.  Relatives of friends would frequently gather in the kitchen or living room for informal jams that lasted late into the night.

So the way things work with weekly newspapers — or at least the Chronicle — is that someone who has an interest can develop that interest by simply going out and covering stuff.  Amazing.  I know that I have attended many more concerts than I ever would have if it didn’t happen to be my job to go see Bill Monroe when he came to play at Fuller Hall in St. Johnsbury.  In the same way it was my job to interview my neighbor and friend Howie Cantor when he made a CD of his folk songs.  I got to write about Viscus when they were getting ready to go on tour a few years ago.  I’ve interviewed Wayne Warner about his music and about his passion to promote adoption for children without families.  Good stuff.

Viscus — not exactly the same group of people but many of the same guys — is playing at Sweet Basil’s on Wednesday, December 30.  Posted below is the story I did about them in 2006.

Now there are so many venues — the Greensboro Blues Jam, Parker Pie music night right here in West Glover on Thursdays, and when we are in Montpelier it’s sort of unbelievable that you can go from place to place and take your pick of music styles.  There’s the Langdon Street Café, the Black Door, Positive Pie, Charlie O’s, and of course if you want to drive to Burlington there’s Higher Ground.  Right over in Morrisville there’s the Bees Knees, and closer to home in the summer there’s the Northeast Kingdom Music Festival, and how cool was the Burke Mountain festival when Grace Potter rocked the mountain?

I have the coolest collection of music ever — my 20-year-old daughter just loaded it all on her ipod; it’s that cool.  I have music by a group of North Country Union High School students who called themselves Precisely Vague.  These guys did jazz to knock your socks off.  I don’t know where they are now, but I’m hanging on to that CD.  That kind of talent doesn’t end at high school.  Those guys are out in the world somewhere, does anyone know where they went?  I’m willing to bet they are making music if not as a group, then in other groups or individually.

Last spring I interviewed Maureen O’Donnell who has made a CD of her music.  Years ago she was part of a band we used to dance to in dance halls long ago burned down.  They were called the BTUs, and yes, they were hot.

That story is posted on the Chronicle’s web site. More recently Ms. O’Donnell had a run-in with emergency services that was described in detail in the Chronicle by my publisher, Chris Braithwaite.  How does her 911 call lead to her in jail, then dropped off in a parking lot in her pajamas?  We covered that story.

Local radio stations have been promoting these musicians forever, and now they have a new friend in the Internet with Free Vermont Radio (or is it Radio Free Vermont?).

So if it’s a decent evening on New Year’s Eve, maybe we can all take advantage of some of the incredible offerings out there to celebrate.

What’s your favorite local or Vermont music?

The Radio Rangers played at Lake Region Union High School's homecoming in 2003. Left to right are Tony Washburn, Mark Strusacker, Dave Rowell, and Danny Coane who also plays with the Starline Rhythm Boys. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Maureen O'Donnell in spring 2009. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Luke Laplant and Derek Campbell of Viscus. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Viscus — a cool hot Northeast Kingdom band heads out on tour

by Bethany M. Dunbar, the Chronicle, February 1, 2006

LYNDONVILLE — Viscus is as cool as a New Orleans summer night, as sweet as a fine dry wine, as dark as the northern lights.  Viscus is a Northeast Kingdom phenomenon.

On Friday night, January 20, at Phat Kats bar, the jazzy-rock-rap-funk group had its CD release party.  The place was stuffed so full of people that there was hardly room to dance, but people found a way.  On Friday, January 27, the group headed south on a nine-state tour for a month in hopes of making connections and getting exposure.

The album is called Merging, and the music is lively, smooth, compositional, sexy, and refreshing.  It fits no category, but has elements of so many that anyone with ears has a pretty good chance to like it.  The talent of these musicians is undeniable.

Many of the band members are known already from playing with other groups.  Viscus started out about four years ago as a trio, including Micah Carbonneau, who was a member of nine different bands at once as recently as this summer.  Mr. Carbonneau plays bass for Viscus, but also plays guitar and drums.

A graduate of North Country Union High School, Mr. Carbonneau has managed to make his living with music lately, but will give up six of these other bands in order to participate in the tour with Viscus.

“I did have a roofing and painting business for quite a while,” he said, but he decided to drop that in favor of chances to play music.  He is still playing with a duo and with the New Gypsy Swing Quintet.

Mr. Carbonneau said he knows that this work demands commitment, and he’s committed to Viscus.  It was not hard to choose which band he wanted to concentrate on.

“My heart soared every time I was with these guys.  It felt like art,” he said.

Ira Friedman, who grew up in Sutton, stopped working for the Old School Builders — at least for the winter — to go where Viscus might take him.  Mr. Friedman plays keyboard and wrote most of the songs Viscus plays.

Mr. Friedman has been writing songs ever since he was in high school.  Sometimes he thinks of lyrics first, and other times the music comes first.

“It happens every possible way really,” he said.  “I just try to grab it when I get the chance.”

He often carries a tape recorder.  If it’s not handy he has been known to write on a napkin while driving down the road.

Both Luke Laplant and Mr. Friedman have studied at William Paterson University in New Jersey.

The first gig Viscus ever had was in Portland, Maine.  The group was Mr. Friedman, Mr. Carbonneau and Mr. Laplant, who plays baritone saxophone.  They had not found a name, and the morning after their gig they went out to breakfast.  Excited about their first appearance, they were talking with the waitress about their music and asked what she thought their band name should be.

She thought about it for a while, came back to their table and said, “What do you guys think about liquid?”

They said they thought liquid was quite fine, and then the waitress, whose name was Rose, said maybe they should consider the name Viscus.

The word viscus has more than one meaning.  Webster’s dictionary defines it as the singular form of viscera, or intestines.  There is also the word viscous, which is a substance made from mistletoe berries or, as an adjective, means having a “sticky fluid consistency.”  There is also viscose, a syrup-like solution used in making fabrics like rayon.  Mr. Carbonneau likes to point out that in Latin the word means the first of the five stages of lovemaking — “the gaze.”

Clearly all this lack of definition is more than acceptable to this band.  Derek Campbell, who plays guitar and sings, has been calling bars all over the southeastern United States to line up gigs for their tour.  He said he had to try to describe the music to people in bars who had never heard Viscus, and he usually ends up saying it’s kind of funky jazz rock.

He told this to the owner of a bar in West Virginia called the Jammin’ Crab, and the owner said, “Really?  Because I was going to change the name of this place to Funky Jazz Rock.”

Needless to say, they got a gig.

The tour will start just outside New York City.  Viscus will hit Key West, Florida, Charleston, South Carolina, Atlanta, Georgia, and Nashville, Tennessee, among other cities. It’s not the first time Viscus has gone out of state.  The band traveled not long ago to New York City to play at a place called Pianos.

The tour actually started on Wednesday, January 25, at Sweet Basil’s in Lyndonville.  Whenever the Viscus band members are in town, they play there on Wednesday nights.

Mr. Campbell lined up the tour through sheer persistence.  He went on the Internet and found lists of possible venues.  He called all the likely prospects.  Sometimes in order to catch the right person who could make a decision he had to call back 16 times.  When he found someone who was willing to listen to the band’s original demo CD, he sent a copy and then called back a week later to see what they thought.

Mr. Campbell is a cartoonist, a glass blower, a writer, a husband and father, and he has a recording studio in his house.  He has recorded three of his own albums, including one called Freak Party.  He said he used to listen to nothing but classic rock, but his tastes have shifted toward funk.  On Wednesdays from noon to 3 p.m. he does a show at the radio station at Lyndon State College, 91.5, the Impulse.  On his show he plays mostly local music and funk.  Through that job he gets to hear all kinds of demo CDs from literally everywhere.  This includes African, Latin, and Scandinavian folk music.  Plus all kinds of local music.

“It’s so amazing how much great local music there is around here,” he said.  A lot of it is featured on the band’s web site, lyndonunderground.com.

The band’s drummer is Troy Hubbard, who works as a landscaper and for Village Sports when he’s not playing music.  Viscus is also often joined by Linda Warnaar on Congo drums.  Others join them on the CD, and on Friday at Phat Kats they were joined by some local vocalists and rappers.

Mr. Laplant is a coppersmith for High Beams in Sutton, which makes custom lighting fixtures.  He plays saxophone, clarinet and ewi (electronic wind instrument).

“Originally I wanted to play the flute,” he said.

He grew up in Lyndonville and has been playing music since he was 11 years old.

Mr. Laplant is excited about the professional opportunities the tour offers, but he’s also just psyched to go out on the road with his friends.

“We’re all like best friends too, so it’s a beautiful thing.”

What is agritourism?

by Bethany M. Dunbar, December 18, 2009

Agriculture and tourism have always gone together.  People come to Vermont to see the beautiful working landscape.  The farmers who are keeping it that way don’t necessarily benefit from tourism directly, but they might in the future.

That’s the idea behind agritourism.  Keep the farms going so the tourists have something to see, fresh eggs and milk to taste.  Give the tourists a more authentic cultural and culinary experience by making these connections.

I always thought the word meant something complicated like a Vermont version of a Dude Ranch out west.  Tourists would stay at a farm and learn how to milk a cow, and pay for the experience, and stay in a bunk house and maybe help paint the fences?

But I’m learning that agritourism can be a wide range of options for farmers and for tourists.  It could be something as simple as a visitor stopping at Parker Pie to get some pizza with sauce made out of Vermont tomatoes and cheese.  Or stopping to see the llamas at a llama farm and maybe buy an ornament made out of their wool.  Is wool the right word?

My very first blog subject was dairy farming, and Gloria Bruce of the Northeast Kingdom Travel and Tourism Association suggested agri-tourism as a follow-up.  So here is the story I wrote about it for the Chronicle (see more related articles on the Chronicle’s web site).  Of course there’s more to it and there will be more meetings, and more ideas, and so on.  This is an area with huge potential it seems.

I didn’t get everything into this story that I had wanted to, but one thing I have learned in the newspaper business — there’s always next week.

This is a start.  Here is the story I wrote about the meeting in Newport recently.

I’m a bit up in the air about posting something next week due to the holidays, so let me say right now, I hope you find yourself with family and friends to celebrate in whatever fashion you prefer.

Thanks for reading.

New mown hay in Glover, Vermont. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Agritourism trends create possibilities for farmers

by Bethany M. Dunbar, the Chronicle, November 25, 2009

NEWPORT — What do farmers need in order to make agritourism work for them on some level?

That was a core question asked at a forum at the Gateway Center on Wednesday, November 18.

Answers ranged from money for a public bathroom to mixers — meetings where farmers might get together and figure out ways to connect.  One woman wondered how to find people who might want the fiber from her llamas.

Many said they want to farm — not do marketing.  But they could take advantage of a group web site or other group marketing activities.

Connections could be helpful for small regional groups, some suggested.  For example, if a tourist comes to stay at a bed and breakfast they might wonder what to do in the area.  A link could be made with a farm or two in the area to set up tours.  Someone staying in Craftsbury or Hardwick could conceivably visit a worm farm, a llama farm, cheese caves, a vegetable farm, and cow and sheep dairy farms all within a close distance.

Agritourism includes wood products as well, including Christmas trees and people who make things to sell out of wood.

Bill Schomburg of Columbia, New Hampshire, said he made a connection with the Balsams Grand Hotel in Dixville Notch, and that has helped his Christmas tree farm tremendously.  Visitors come to stay at the Balsams and get a tour of the tree farm.  Each visitor can go out and pick out a tree and put a ribbon on it.  That tree will be shipped to that person at Christmas time.

One suggestion was a passport program or a tour map similar to Open Studio Weekend for artists and crafts people.  Farmers said one problem with tours is that they sometimes take time and don’t necessarily lead to income for the farmer.  But if a more formal tour was set up with a cost, and that income was divided among the farms on the tour, it would be worth taking some time, some said.

“The goal for us with tourism is to protect and employ what we love about our home,” said Gloria Bruce of the Northeast Kingdom Travel and Tourism Association (NEKTTA) as she opened the meeting.

She said tourism can help the economy, but if it is done without forethought it can harm an area.

NEKTTA is working with the University of Vermont Extension, the Northwoods Stewardship Center and the Nulhegan Gateway Association on a regional agritourism initiative.

Agritourism does not have to be as formal as an overnight stay on a farm.

“Not all farmers are interested in tourism,” Ms. Bruce said in a telephone interview before the forum.  They still might be able to take advantage of agritourism by finding local restaurants or bed and breakfasts that could sell or serve the products that they grow.

She said Jay Peak is linking with area farmers for two reasons — tourists come to Jay to see the dramatic scenery on its flanks, as she put it — and that scenery is farm land.  The new hotel restaurant is going to feature black and white photographs of farmers who are providing food served at the mountain.

Agritourism is a growing phenomenon, Ms. Bruce said.

“It is on fire in terms of publicity,” she said.  Tourists from Montreal and Boston are looking for an experience that will include dining on local foods and possibly visiting local farms as well.

The trend has generated phrases to describe itself such as “farm to table,” “pasture to plate,” and “culinary tourism.”  Farm to table tends to be about vegetables while pasture to plate is about meat.

Whatever the phrase, Ms. Bruce says the trend is growing.

“The demand has risen exponentially.”

Area farms can take advantage of tourists’ desire to visit them and try their products, but there might be issues with visitors that a farmer hasn’t even thought about — for example, a five-year-old city visitor touching the electric fence.

Farmers who truly want to host tourists have to think about their facilities in a different way, she said.

“The first time that a traveler walks through your barn it needs to be kind of stage ready.”

Nancy Kish of Agape Hill Farm in Hardwick said during the Gateway Center forum that she is already doing agritourism.

She offers llama walks and birthday parties.  People can buy fiber ornaments shaped like hearts and llamas.

“I have more ideas than I have time to develop,” she said.

But she said she recently learned how to put up a Facebook page and could mentor someone else who wants to do the same thing.

Her other problem is funding for a public bathroom.  If the tour is short, the bathroom is not needed.  But sometimes it would be helpful, she said.

Lynette Courtney of the Down to Earth Worm Farm in Greensboro Bend said time is a problem on their farm as well.  She uses worms to make compost, and she has a nursery and offers gardening services.

“We do not have a day off between May and November,” she said.  In the winter they have nothing but time — and no income.

Where she lived before, (ten years ago) she could get jobs going into the schools to do presentations about the worm farm and plants that they grow and sell in her greenhouse.  These one-day jobs would pay $150.  But in Vermont there is a master gardener program that offers the same thing for free.

After discussion in two smaller groups, a consensus was reached that the most important priority should be product development, then marketing.  It would be a bad idea, some suggested, to market farm tours through some kind of passport program before the farms were really ready to host tourists.

Another forum on the subject of local farms and food is planned for December 3 at Lake Region Union High School.  The Sustainable Agriculture Council, the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, the Northeastern Vermont Development Association and the Center for an Agricultural Economy will host the meeting, one of a series of meetings around the state, to get opinions and create a ten-year plan to strengthen Vermont’s food system.

Missing the Lapierres

Bill and Annette Lapierre of Orleans in October of 2008. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Remembering dedicated volunteers

by Bethany M. Dunbar, December 11, 2009

It’s been more than a year since we heard Annette Lapierre’s voice on the scanner, calling out her neighbors to help fight a fire or someone who had been hurt in a car accident.  Annette’s voice made you sit up and take notice.  And who better to call people to volunteer than someone who had been serving her community faithfully and well since most of those firefighters and ambulance volunteers were knee-high to a grasshopper?  Dispatcher Annette Lapierre and her husband, retired chief Emile “Bill” Lapierre were an institution in Orleans.

Bill was the chief of the fire department for 29 years and an active volunteer for 64 years.  He was deeply proud of his department, which had to be well-trained and have enough people to handle a potential fire at the Ethan Allen furniture mill.  Time and again, his department proved that the volunteers were ready.  He helped get the Northeast International Mutual Aid system going, which means neighboring towns help each other with their fires when needed.

Bill stayed invovled, as well as he could, for almost all his life.  The Lapierres continued dispatching even when health problems kept them from actually fighting the fires.  If there was a bad fire in the middle of the night, he called me or another Chronicle reporter at home so we could get some pictures.  In return we gave the Lapierres a free subscription and the department any photos they would like.  The photos are a record of what happened as well as a recognition of the efforts of the volunteers.

As fire warden, Bill came into the Chronicle office once a year with a letter to the editor reminding people to get a permit before burning grass or wood waste in the spring.  There were times he ordered no burning because things were too dry.  In the springtime it can be deceiving when all the snow is melting because things seem damp.  But there are no leaves on the trees and all the dead grass can catch fire and easily get out of control.  Despite his warnings, out-of-control grass fires are a common subject of photographs for the newspaper.

One day in the fall of 2008 I got a call to take a different kind of picture.  Annette Lapierre had to go into the Maple Lane Nursing Home as her health was failing at age 73.  The volunteers and emergency workers wanted to honor her for all her years of service and wanted the Chronicle there to take a picture.

It was a good turnout, of course — emergency workers, family, and friends collected for the event.  I could see that Bill was pretty emotional, but we got everyone together.  I got a few good pictures, and I drove home thinking of how different things would be without the Lapierres actively involved in the emergency service community.

I took that photo on October 30, for publication in the next Chronicle, November 5.

Before I could get that photo published, Bill Lapierre had died, November 3.  Before another newspaper could be published, Annette Lapierre had died, November 6.

Orleans had a 1938 LaFrance fire truck that Bill loved like a child.  It was built ten years after he was born, and it came out for all the parades.  His funeral procession included the fire truck, and a child watching thought he was seeing a parade.  I think Bill would have liked that.

The Lapierres are deeply missed.  Posted here are photos I took on October 30, and the story I did about Bill’s death.  A story of Bill’s funeral, a tribute by their daughter, Karen, and their obituaries appear on the Chronicle’s web site.

Do you remember the Lapierres and have a story about them you could share as a comment?  Or a story about another dedicated volunteer?  I’d love to hear it.

Annette Lapierre was honored by emergency workers from the Orleans fire department, ambulance squad, and Orleans County Sheriff Kirk Martin on Thursday, October 30, for 38 years of service as the emergency dispatcher.  With her in the photo are family members who described growing up in the Lapierre household and how the six kids and grandchildren had better get out of the way when that red phone rang because it had to be answered quickly.  One weekend a year Mrs. Lapierre and her husband, Emile, would go to the state fire convention.  Mr. Lapierre recalls the day he first saw his future bride, riding with the milk truck driver when he was just a little boy and he noticed a little curly-haired girl at one of the farms.  “I was interested in trucks,” he said.  That didn’t change, really, but he became interested in the little curly haired girl as well.  In the front row, left to right, are:  Gail Fortin, Annette Lapierre, Sydney Lapierre, and Olivia Lapierre.  In the second row are Emile “Bill” Lapierre, Devon Lapierre, April Lapierre, Karen Lapierre, Dustin Lapierre, Debbie Lapierre, Heather Lapierre and Mindy Pickel.  Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

“He loved the smell of smoke”

by Bethany M. Dunbar, the Chronicle, November 5, 2008

ORLEANS — “Life’s going to be tough without him,” said Orleans County Sheriff Kirk Martin about retired fire chief Emile “Bill” Lapierre, who died early Monday morning.

“They’ll never be replaced,” he said about Mr. Lapierre and his wife, Annette, who retired from dispatching services after 38 years.  “Nobody will have their dedication.”

Sheriff Martin’s sentiments are being felt by everyone in the community of Orleans, not to mention the giant extended Lapierre family, and everyone who worked in emergency services anywhere near here.

“He chose public service above all,” said Senator Vince Illuzzi, whose office was right next to the Lapierre home.  “It’s people like him who make traditional Vermont communities as strong as they are.”

Mr. Illuzzi wrote a resolution honoring the Lapierres that was passed in the Vermont Legislature in 1994.  Mr. Illuzzi said he remembers Mr. Lapierre saying how he loved the smell of smoke.

John Morley, village manager for Orleans and a representative in the Legislature, said that he first met Mr. Lapierre when he was a little boy.  Mr. Lapierre worked for his grandfather, who used to own a gas station on Main Street.  Mr. Lapierre would pump gas and change tires — until that fire whistle blew.

“My father tells me that whenever that whistle blew, he was gone,” said Mr. Morley.

“He basically lived and breathed the Orleans Fire Department,” said Mr. Morley.  Mr. Morley said the Lapierres also did dispatching for emergency calls for the village, if there was a water leak or an electrical line down.

Mr. Morley said he was most impressed with Mr. Lapierre’s commitment to advancing the fire department — getting up-to-date training for all the volunteers and making sure the equipment and buildings were top knotch.  Mr. Morley said Mr. Lapierre was always an active participant at the annual Village Meeting with good questions and comments.

“He treated me and the village of Orleans like gold.”

Mr. Morley said he had just spoken to Mr. Lapierre a couple of days before he died.  Mr. Lapierre knew it was time to give up dispatching, Mr. Morley said, because he felt he might not be able to do it perfectly anymore and someone might get hurt.  Arrangements had recently been made to change to a professional dispatching service.

Mr. Lapierre, who was 80 years old, put more than 50 years into the fire department, 30 of them as chief.  A World War II veteran, he was a member of the American Legion for 50 years and one of the people who got the current post built.

He also got the current fire station built, with help from many other people in Orleans.

Sheriff Martin said Mr. Lapierre put in more time as a volunteer than most.  His efforts encouraged others to get involved.

“He set that example,” the sheriff said.

Funeral services will be on Thursday, November 6, at 11 a.m. at St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Orleans.

Craftsbury Academy — a small school with a big heart

What do you remember from high school?

Craftsbury Academy graduation ceremonies June 2009. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Bethany M. Dunbar, December 4, 2009

When the voters of Craftsbury finally said yes to a major school renovation earlier this year, I admit it:  I was thrilled.

Journalists are supposed to be objective and I’ve done my best.  But Craftsbury Academy is my high school.  In 1977 I graduated along with 12 others and went out into the world — more ready for adult life and college than one might expect.

I played basketball in the rickety gymnasium and learned Latin, algebra, and how to write in front of those tall, elegant energy-hog windows.  I read Shakespeare, sang in the chorus, worked on the school newspaper and yearbook, and learned gun safety and how to shoot a .22 rifle.  In those days it was a requirement for Vermont kids in ninth grade or about that age and it still should be.  I learned how to ski and speak French.  We had a Problems of American Democracy class with Bruce “Coach” Aschenbach that was just three students.  Such a tiny class allowed us to do special projects including one investigating the pros and cons of zoning for Craftsbury.  I remember when studying the Cuban Missile Crisis I wanted to write a letter to Fidel Castro to get his side of the story.  The principal in those days, Ted Howard, said all right, but not on school letterhead.  It seemed a reasonable compromise.

Mr. Castro did not write back to me.  I’ve probably been on a CIA watch list ever since.

My English teacher, Joan Simmons, entered something I wrote into a national writing contest and it won an honorable mention.  The Hardwick Gazette came and took my picture and put a little something in the paper.  By the way, the editors said, do you want to write some articles about Craftsbury for the paper?  Sure.  A career was launched.

Years later I covered a thematic experience at the school that took the entire student body on a whale watch.  That was after weeks of studying literature, music, math, science and art related to whales.  Those students will remember what they learned in those classes for life.

What do you remember from high school?

The small school experience is nothing to give up without a fight.

Craftsbury voters rejected three bond votes since 2005 either because they were too expensive or because voters didn’t agree with various parts of them.

I didn’t write editorials in favor of the last few plans.  I hoped each one would pass — for selfish reasons — to keep the school I love going.  But I’m not paying taxes in that town and could certainly understand why someone might vote against a proposal that would cost $10-million to build a new school for 13 graduating seniors.

The drastic renovation that was approved in November of this year is a perfect solution, at least for now.  It won’t fix the rickety gym, but the gym will hold up one or two more winters, with luck.  The kids won’t be able to play basketball when there’s a big snow storm.  But they will still have their school and all the opportunities a small community high school can offer.

Posted below is the story I wrote for the Chronicle outlining the plan, which voters approved 258 to 111 on November 10.  I would have editorialized in favor of this plan if I had written the story a week earlier.  I’m reluctant to write an editorial in the same week as a news story.  Waiting a week allows others to speak up at the same time and seems more fair.

Craftsbury Academy renovation vote, the Chronicle, November 4, 2009

by Bethany M. Dunbar

CRAFTSBURY COMMON — Voters in Craftsbury will go to the polls next week to decide if they want to spend $3-million in order to save on their property taxes.

Julie Marckres painted a financial picture for those at an information meeting on Tuesday that sounded a lot like a person who is spending $300 a month on repairs for an old car trying to decide if they want to buy a new used one instead and make a $200 car payment.

Ms. Marckres is the chairman of the school board for the Craftsbury schools.  An accountant by trade, Ms. Marckres had created a chart showing the savings created by fixing up the old Academy building.

One of the biggest savings is that in the current budget, property taxpayers spent $200,000 on school repairs.  That goes into the state formula as per-pupil cost, which means a per-pupil cost in Craftsbury (after adjustments made by the state) of $18,172.

That rate of spending leads to a homestead tax rate of $2.08.

A 15-year $3-million zero interest rate bond for renovations on the Academy would be considered construction costs and not per pupil costs, which would mean a homestead tax rate of $1.83 instead.

Extreme savings would also be realized on energy costs due to the renovation.  These savings were explained by architect Robert Bast and outlined in a recent school newsletter as well.

Currently, the old buildings have an oil furnace and a steam boiler.  The Academy building, built in 1879, has been rated by Efficiency Vermont at about 25 percent efficiency.  By putting in a wood pellet boiler and insulation, and more efficient lighting, the savings will be huge.  The Craftsbury schools currently use more than 22,000 gallons of oil a year for heat.

The changes would save about $20,000 a year in annual energy costs.

A wood pellet silo would be added at the back of the building and would not be higher than the roof line.  Mr. Bast said he went to an energy fair last week and heard that the current cost of wood pellets is about the same as paying $1.67 for a gallon of heating oil.  There are now 15 pellet-making plants in the northeast and seven more are coming into production in the near future.

The renovations are expected to improve energy efficiency by 60 percent, up to about 80 percent.

The $3-million renovation would include insulation and new clapboards, new windows designed to look like the historic windows, completely new wiring, a sprinkler system, an elevator and enclosed stairways for safety.

Renovations would include new office and special services space, and new bathrooms.  The buildings would be accessible for everyone.

The Academy building is owned by the Craftsbury Academy Trustees.  Linda Ramsdell is on that board and told the people at Tuesday’s meeting that the board of trustees has applied for, and received, $137,000 in tax credits and has agreed to match that amount to help with this project.  The board has also been given a grant of $50,000 from the Freeman Foundation to help with replacing the windows with more energy-efficient windows that will look just like the historic windows in the building now.

What the renovations won’t do is anything to help the old gymnasium, the industrial arts building, or the elementary school.

The disadvantage of not moving elementary students up to the common is that the funds are not eligible for state aid.  But the advantage of not doing everything at once is that it allows a long-term planning process that has started in town to continue.

A group called the Craftsbury Schools Community Collaboration is looking at big picture questions such as whether or not the town wants to continue to educate its students in town, or if it wants to send high school students to another school.

Steve Moffatt urged everyone who cares to get involved.

“Now is your chance to step up to the plate,” he said.  The next meeting of the group is November 19 at 6:30 at the town hall.  He said about 30 people have been regularly involved, and they are dedicated.

Voting to renovate the Academy would not clash with any future decision the town might make, according to Mr. Moffatt.  Ms. Marckres said if the town decides to just have an elementary school in the future, the classrooms in the renovated Academy building, the Annex and Minden Hall will be fine for that purpose.

Funding for the $3-million is through a Qualified School Construction Bond which is money provided to Vermont through the federal economic stimulus package.  Vermont will have $24-million for qualified school projects.

“This is not a free ride,” said John Maniatti.  “This is going to cost all of use a lot of money for the next 20 years.”

Ms. Marckres said it’s true, all the U.S. income taxpayers will be paying for these projects, but if Craftsbury doesn’t take advantage of the zero percent funding, some other town in Vermont will, and the income taxpayers will still have to pay for it.