Fishy Photo: Nice trout caught at “hush-hush” pond

Kayden Painchaud, 11, of Vassalboro, shows off a 24-inch brown trout he caught on July 14, at a pond he did not want to reveal.

Vassalboro public hearing planned for Brock Trailer Park

by Mary Grow

After another discussion with Codes Officer Richard Dolby at their July 12 meeting, Vassalboro selectmen have scheduled an August 23 public hearing on Brock’s trailer park off Webber Pond Road. The hearing will be at 6:30 p.m. in the town office.

Dolby said a septic system serving two mobile homes has failed, and the park owner has not made repairs or taken other action because, Dolby said, he does not have the needed money.

Selectmen issued a notice of violation in June. Now they have at least two options, Dolby said: they could ask the town attorney to prepare another notice of violation that would go to court, eventually; or they could declare the two mobile homes unsafe and if repairs were not made in a reasonable time order the tenants evicted.

The second course, declaring the two homes dangerous buildings, requires a public hearing. Selectmen first planned to hold it late in July, but Dolby learned that state law requires a three-week notice, leading selectmen to reschedule the hearing as part of their August 23 meeting.

Dolby has reported the situation to the Maine Manufactured Housing Board.

In other business July 12, selectmen discussed at length board member John Melrose’s proposal for long-range planning. He and the other two selectmen suggested a variety of possible topics, including energy use, public safety, public works and education.

They agreed now that Vassalboro Community School is a town school, not part of a larger organization, selectmen and school board members need to share information more regularly. Board Chairman Lauchlin Titus was authorized to contact School Board Chairman Kevin Levasseur about a joint meeting.

On another long-range planning issue, China Selectman Neil Farrington reported on China’s effort to expand and improve internet services, suggesting the two towns might cooperate at some point.

Titus announced that this year’s Vassalboro Days celebration will be Sept. 8, the Saturday after Labor Day weekend.

Vassalboro planning board approves five applications

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Planning Board members approved all five applications on their July 10 agenda, including the Vassalboro Sanitary District’s plan for connecting Vassalboro’s sewer systems to Winslow’s and a new four-lot subdivision on Hussey Hill Road. The Sanitary District’s engineer, Richard Green, of Hoyle, Tanner and Associates, explained that the district intends to install new pipes along Route 32, in East and North Vassalboro, update equipment at existing pump stations and eliminate three sand filter treatment beds. The sand filters will have their pipes removed and be graded and seeded to look like lawns, he said.

After the connection to Winslow, Green said there will be no more discharges into Outlet Stream.

Green said bids on the work are slated to go out immediately, with construction to start in the fall and to take about a year.

Codes Enforcement Officer Richard Dolby said most of the pipeline work will be in the road right-of-way, not in the planning board’s jurisdiction. The board is needed to certify that the project is compatible with the town’s comprehensive plan – or, in Vassalboro’s case, its strategic plan – as part of the process of getting grant funding, Dolby said.

He said he and Town Manager Mary Sabins drafted a letter to that effect. Planning board members authorized Chairman Virginia Brackett to sign it.

The Hussey Hill Road subdivision is on the north side of the road beginning at the Bog Road intersection. Landowner Mona Deangelo is subdividing about 12 acres of her about 44-acre parcel into four lots, each at least two acres. William Boynton and Tyler Cutts, of Boynton Pickett, the surveying company representing her before the planning board, said each lot passed a soils test for a septic system; each will have a well.

Approval took more than an hour, mostly because board members were using for the first time the subdivision ordinance as it was amended in 2014. They questioned several of the new ordinance requirements they and voters approved, like an affidavit there had been no recent timber harvesting – not needed, they decided, since neighbors agreed the land has been a cornfield for years – and a list of E911 addresses that Dolby said would better be done after subdivision, not before.

In addition, an abutting landowner claimed one of the boundary lines is inaccurate. The abutter intends to have his own survey done.

Planning board members had a memo from Vassalboro Road Commissioner Eugene Field about a culvert under Hussey Hill Road that appeared likely to affect roadside drainage from at least two and maybe three of the lots. Approval of the subdivision was conditional on driveway culverts downhill from the cross-road culvert being large enough to carry the expected flow.

The remaining three agenda items were approved promptly and without conditions, as follows:

  • Don and Denise Deane have approval to enlarge an existing bathroom by enclosing part of the deck at their seasonal cottage at 59 Birch Point Road.
  • Mark Fuchswanz has approval to tear down an old camp on the lot adjoining his at 11 Birch Point Road, and to build a two-vehicle garage that will be farther from the water than the camp.
  • Bernard and Jody Welch have approval to amend their Main Street subdivision – the former Volmer’s nursing home and surrounding land – by creating an additional 6.8-acre lot that has no building on it and, Dolby said, will be used as farmland.

Vassalboro residents learn about sewer expansion project

by Mary Grow

Ten people showed up for the Vassalboro selectmen’s June 28 public hearing on a Community Development Block Grant for the sewer extension project, not all of them members of the Vassalboro Sanitary District Board of Trustees.

Despite the audience being larger than usual for a local hearing, no one had questions, so the hearing lasted the typical two minutes.

Engineer Richard Green of Hoyle, Tanner and Associates, of Brunswick, distributed a summary of the project. The goal is to connect Vassalboro’s sewer system to Winslow’s and thence to the regional treatment plant in Waterville.

Work includes installing new sewer pipes along Route 32 from East Vassalboro to Winslow and major changes – replacements, upgrades and demolitions – at the existing treatment facilities in Vassalboro. Total project cost is estimated at more than $7 million. The Community Development Block Grant is $975,000; Vassalboro Tax Increment Finance (TIF) money and state and federal grants and loans are expected to cover the rest of the cost, with the Sanitary District borrowing what Green called “quite a bit.”

The public hearing was followed by a selectmen’s meeting at which selectmen returned to two issues raised earlier in June. They unanimously authorized Town Manager Mary Sabins to negotiate with state officials to end Vassalboro’s lease of the Three Mile Pond former rest area and boat landing.

They took no action on a possible request to voters to approve an ordinance limiting medical marijuana storefronts in town. Board Chairman Lauchlin Titus said so far residents have expressed little interest in the issue.

They also took no action on Selectman John Melrose’s suggestion that Vassalboro needs a Budget Committee Ordinance to codify the responsibilities of the committee, which has existed for decades without written authority. The issue might be on the agenda for their July 12 meeting.

The board had two bids on a tax-acquired property in North Vassalboro. They unanimously accepted the higher, from Thomas Harville, of Skowhegan.

As the fiscal year ended, selectmen appointed, or in most cases reappointed, members of town boards and committees. They asked Sabins to continue discussion with two residents who had expressed interest in joining boards.

VCS holds new pavilion ribbon cutting

The new pavilion at the Vassalboro Community School, funded through the PTO. (Internet photo)

by Mary Grow

Retiring Principal Dianna Gram did the honors at the June 15 ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new playground pavilion at Vassalboro Community School, before a large audience of VCS students plus some of the people involved in the project.

School Board and Parent Teacher Organization member Jessica Clark said the pavilion replaces a tree that provided a shady resting place for many years. When the tree began to die, Clark and the PTO proposed a pavilion instead.

They were able to get help from PTO funds; a grant, through Duratherm Window, of Vassalboro, from Pella Rolscreen Foundation; donated tree removal and preliminary groundwork from Jason Tyler, of Comprehensive Land Technologies, in South China; materials supplied at cost by McCormack Building Supply, in Winslow; and partly-donated labor by Ray Breton, of North Vassalboro, and his crew.

The pavilion was built during the school year, letting students monitor construction. Now that it’s officially open, it will be available for outdoor classes next fall and for use by community members during non-school hours.

Rules for community use are the same as for all school property, Clark said: no alcohol, drugs, tobacco (or vaping) and no antisocial behavior. Since the pavilion is not lighted, people are expected to use it during daylight hours only.

Vassalboro board rejects request for reconsideration

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Board of Appeals members have refused to reconsider their May 22 rejection of Jonathan Blumberg’s appeal of Codes Officer Richard Dolby’s permit issued in March to Bernard Welch.

In May, three board of appeals members unanimously agreed Blumberg’s procedural and substantive objections to Dolby’s action were without merit. They told Blumberg he could request that the board reconsider, or appeal the board’s action to Superior Court.

Blumberg chose to request a reconsideration. Vassalboro’s ordinance says in that case, “A demonstration must be made by the applicant [Blumberg] that substantial new evidence has been brought before the board or an error or mistake of law or misunderstanding of fact has been made.”

At the board’s June 20 discussion on the reconsideration request, Blumberg presented two procedural issues, claiming he had not received formal notice of the May 22 decision nor timely notice of the June 20 meeting.

Board members and Dolby said the May 22 decision was not final until board members approved the meeting minutes. They took that action at the end of the June 20 meeting. They dismissed Blumberg’s claim that he did not know on what basis they had acted, reminding him that he was present for the entire meeting May 22.

The June 20 meeting had been publicized as required by the ordinance, to abutters and in the newspaper. When Blumberg said he did not read the newspaper, Dolby replied that was not the town’s fault.

Earlier in June, Blumberg sent the board three pages of items he claimed were “discovery after the fact,” not considered at the May 22 meeting. Board member Gary Coull said he found no new evidence in the presentation.

Blumberg claimed he had additional evidence that he had not had time to organize, “mostly stuff that I printed off the web” plus applicable laws. Board members believed he should have had his evidence ready for June 20.

Board Chairman John Reuthe made it clear he was losing patience with Blumberg’s repeated challenges to Dolby’s actions affecting Welch’s property. “What do you really want? Do you want them [the Welches] to leave town?” he demanded. “I would like to live peacefully and safely on my property. I would like my neighbors to obey the rules,” Blumberg replied.

Board members were not convinced that Welch is violating town ordinances. If some part of his farming operation, or the bed and breakfast Blumberg claims Welch runs, needs additional state permits, the local board of appeals has no jurisdiction, Dolby said.

Board members unanimously approved Lee Duff’s motion that no new evidence was presented and the board had nothing to consider. They advised Blumberg that his next recourse was an appeal to Superior Court.

Vassalboro school board had hoped to appoint new superintendent

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro School Board members hoped to approve a new superintendent for Vassalboro at their June 19 meeting, but no one has been chosen.

Eric Haley was full-time superintendent for all three AOS (Alternative Organizational Structure) schools (Vassalboro, Waterville and Winslow) until voters dissolved the AOS in March, effective June 30. Vassalboro is now looking for a part-time superintendent, to work the equivalent of one day a week.

Haley explained that the person who is the Vassalboro search committee’s first choice is trying unsuccessfully – so far – to put together a package of jobs adding up to full-time. If that person cannot take the Vassalboro job, Haley said the search committee recommends re-advertising the position. Meanwhile, Haley offered to continue as interim superintendent until the position is filled. School board members unanimously accepted his offer.

Vassalboro Community School is also lacking a half-time Spanish teacher. New Principal Megan Allen said there have been no applicants for the position. Allen recommended advertising for someone to teach any foreign language rather than abandoning all foreign-language offerings.

School board members agreed by consensus to continue until mid-July looking for someone to continue the Spanish program, and if that search is unsuccessful to advertise for someone to teach any non-English-language class.

Board members voted reluctantly to increase 2018-19 school lunch prices by 10 cents, from $2.65 to $2.75 for a full-price lunch. Retiring Principal Dianna Gram explained that the federal government has a price formula under which Vassalboro should be charging $2.90; if the school does not move toward that goal, 10 cents at a time, federal subsidies might be reduced. More cheerfully, board members approved the 2018-19 school budget previously approved by Vassalboro voters, the 2018-19 school calendar (with a fourth snow day, Haley said) and the school board meeting schedule; several updated curricula; and appointment of Devin Lachapelle as a new math/social studies teacher. They accepted the resignation of first-grade teacher Arielle Jurdak-Roy, who is moving. Gram praised Jurdak-Roy, the teachers who worked on amended curricula and AOS #92 curriculum director Mary Boyle.

Although the AOS is officially dissolved, many of the central office staff will continue to work for one or more of the three municipalities’ schools under an interlocal agreement approved by all three school boards. Haley also recommends school administrators from the three municipalities continue to meet to share ideas, pointing out that when AOS #92 was formed, Waterville and Winslow promptly copied Vassalboro’s successful reading program.

Haley will continue as Waterville superintendent. He assured Vassalboro officials, “I’ll still be around. Obviously I’m not going to leave my friends in the lurch.”

The next Vassalboro School Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening, July 17, if there is a new Vassalboro superintendent by then. If not, the next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening, Aug. 21.

Lizotte receives recognition

Contributed photo

Laurie Lizotte, Child Care Administrator for the Vassalboro Community School Child Care Program, was recently recognized at the staff luncheon at the school on Tuesday, June 19. The recognition is for her past 20 years of service for administering a licensed, nationally-accredited, Quality Level 4 child care program.

New community center opens in Vassalboro

Jim, left, and Rachel Kilbride. (Photos by Eric Austin)

by Eric W. Austin

Looking at Rachel Kilbride, you wouldn’t think she’s the type to hear voices, but that’s exactly what prompted her to buy the St. Bridget Catholic Church, in Vassalboro, and turn it into a local community center.

“I wasn’t planning to retire in Vassalboro,” Rachel told me. A Winslow native, she was living in Wells with her husband, Jim, when, in the summer of 2014, she responded to an inner urging to look into what was being done with the shuttered Catholic church.

“This building was closed in 2011,” she explained at the recent open house for the new community center, “and in 2014, I was driving by and this little voice said, ‘Buy me!’”

Jim Kilbride said it was a voice that wouldn’t go away. “Every time she went by it, she’d get another nudge,” he continued. “So, Rachel finally said, ‘The heck with this, I’ve gotta check it out.’”

That nudge eventually pushed them to contact Corpus Christi Parish, which owned the rectory, church and accompanying grounds, to find out about buying the property. The parish was amenable to selling, and in January 2015, the couple put their house in Wells up for sale and moved into the old church rectory. It was the beginning of a long, three-year journey to restore the two buildings and surrounding grounds.

“We slept in the rectory in sleeping bags for about six months,” she recalls with a laugh. The couple set about renovating the rectory and making it habitable before turning their attention to the main church building.

The interior of the renovated church. Photos by Eric Austin)

Was it worth it? The results are impressive. With high, cathedral ceilings, gleaming wood floors, and big, wavy-glass windows that let in plenty of light, the interior of the old church is undeniably beautiful. “A hundred and sixty gallons of paint later,” Rachel confides, with the air of someone who has just climbed a mountain and is now enjoying the view.

“I wanted to preserve the history,” she explains. Rachel and Jim have worked to retain many of the historic features of the building, such as the St. Bridget statue out front, the original doors, wood floors, and the old fashioned, wavy-glass windows.

The first church built on the site was destroyed by a fire in 1925, she said. The entire town of Vassalboro came together to rebuild it, a task they completed in only six months. It’s a feat that still astounds Rachel, who has spent the last three years just doing the restoration.

The response from the Vassalboro community has also been positive, with nearly 200 people showing up for the open house. Stewart, a resident of East Vassalboro, when asked how he felt about the Kilbrides’ initiative to restore the old church, replied, “I think it’s fantastic! Are you kidding me? Look at this! It was falling down before they took it over.”

The Kilbrides hope to rent the building for banquets, weddings, and other community and charity events. They have added a kitchen, installed new wiring, an entrance ramp, and a handicap-accessible bathroom to bring the building up to modern standards.

For more information, email them at, call 616-3148, or visit their blog at

Vassalboro Community School Principal Dianna Gram retires after 24 years

Retiring VCS Principal Dianna Gram, left, greets children at the start of a new school day with in-coming Principal Megan Allen. (Photo courtesy of Mary Grow)

by Mary Grow

Principal Dianna Gram is retiring from Vassalboro Community School this month with mixed feelings.

She expects to miss people she’s worked with over more than two decades, especially the students.

But she’s totally confident incoming principal Megan Allen is the right person to succeed her. “I have a great sense of relief and pride in her similar values,” Gram said, predicting a smooth transition.

As we talked in the principal’s office one afternoon after classes were over, those shared values kept coming up.

For example, both women prefer the school when it’s full of students, not almost quiet as it was then. “It isn’t a real place,” without students, Gram said, and Allen called it “kind of eerie.”

Both talked about the unusual atmosphere at the school – a real community, to both of them. Whole families go through the grades, and now Gram is seeing the children of former students.

Allen referred to “something different you feel when you walk through the door” – nothing she can define, but an environment and culture she has every intention of preserving.

Students walking through the door in the morning are apt to see Gram first thing, as she habitually meets them in the lobby. If a student looks distressed, Gram is likely to pull him or her aside and see if she can find out what’s wrong and take care of it.

Sometimes, she said, she gets an immediate reaction. Other times, Allen said, the student will come to an adult a few days later to talk about the issue.

Sometimes, too, a bus driver will notice a child acting unhappy and will call ahead to ask Gram to check.

VCS is not perfect. Gram admits there are problems, including bullying. But, she said, school adults try to be proactive, for example by having the school counselor spend time in classrooms. Students are encouraged to speak up if they see something wrong, to an adult or to other students. Discipline is used when necessary.

Students are surveyed every year, Gram said. Typically, 90 percent or more say they feel safe at VCS, and almost every student knows an adult to go to if he or she needs help.

Kindness is one of the values stressed at VCS. At the beginning of each school year, students are encouraged to report acts of kindness; the benefactor’s name is written on a piece of paper and the papers hung on the kindness tree in the rotunda for the year.

Two other positive comments were, from Gram, that teachers feel empowered to suggest and try out new ideas, like the Citizen of the Month program started by a former teacher and still going strong; and from Allen, a Vassalboro resident, that people are friendly and respectful when they meet her off-duty, in the supermarket or at the transfer station.

Residents’ interest in their children’s school is obvious. Gram said this year’s 16 pre-kindergarten students had 127 family members and other guests signed up for their graduation ceremony. The annual eighth-grade graduation is held at the China Lake Conference Center, where attendees’ cars fill every parking space and line both sides of the road for half a mile, because VCS is too small to accommodate the crowd.

Dianna Gram, left, retires as principal of Vassalboro Community School this month.

Allen has been at VCS since 2008, starting as a third-grade teacher and moving to grades six, seven and eight. Meanwhile she earned a master’s degree from New England College, a doctorate in educational leadership and management from Capella University and has almost earned her principal’s certificate – she will take two more courses this summer to move from provisional to full certification.

Gram has been at the school 24 years, as special education director, assistant principal and principal. She leaves behind two specific items, in addition to the school’s reputation and the pre-kindergarten program she initiated.

One is the pink flamingo in the front garden. Gram’s “thing” is flamingos; so the 2017-18 school yearbook has flamingos from cover to cover, and many of the gifts filling her office are flamingo-themed. A special gift is a bag autographed by every student, presented at an assembly June 13 that was a total surprise; Gram still shakes her head in amazement as she realizes that everyone gathered in the auditorium while she was unsuspecting in her office.

The other souvenir is Gram’s grandmother’s wooden kitchen table, under a tablecloth in front of her desk, where she has resolved innumerable problems “sitting around the kitchen table.” Asked if she was taking it with her, she said “No, it’s staying for Megan.”