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 StBridgetCenter@gmail.com, call 616-3148, or visit their blog at https://stbridgetwhispers.wordpress.com/.

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.”

Vassalboro residents asked for input on marijuana, picnic area

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen would appreciate residents’ opinions on two topics, preferably before the June 28 selectmen’s meeting. The first issue is whether townspeople want to try to restrict the number of storefront medical marijuana shops – places where people with a prescription for marijuana can get it filled – allowed in town. The second is whether there is any reason to continue to lease the Route 3 former picnic area and boat launch from the state, instead of canceling the lease.

Town Manager Mary Sabins raised both questions at the June 14 selectmen’s meeting.

The first came up because Sabins expects the planning board to hear an application to open a medical marijuana dispensary in one end of the storage building on Route 3. That business, if approved by planners, would be grandfathered and not affected by any later action, she said.

However, if many residents think one such business in town is enough, selectmen could draft an ordinance banning any more and bring it to a special town meeting. (ep)

Sabins pointed out that China already has a medical marijuana dispensary on Route 3, just east of the Adams Realty office.

Vassalboro has an ordinance banning retail recreational marijuana establishments, approved in January 2017. Medical marijuana, under state law, falls into a different category and is not covered by the recreational marijuana ordinance.

The Three Mile Pond issue came up, Sabins said, after a resident complained about the condition of the fence between the state-owned facilities and adjoining private property. She realized that neither the former picnic area nor the boat launch is of use to the town and asked state officials if the lease could be cancelled. The answer was yes, and the public would continue to have access to the boat launch.

The picnic area used to have tables, grills and other amenities, and town officials considered trying to create a swimming area. They found a weedy lake bottom and a lack of interest. The semi-abandoned picnic area attracted unwelcome behavior, so about nine years ago, by Sabins’ reckoning, the amenities were removed, leaving only the boat landing functional.

Selectmen are leaning toward not recommending limits on medical marijuana facilities – board Chairman Lauchlin Titus compared them to pharmacies – and toward giving up responsibility for the boat landing. They postponed both decisions, however, to let residents weigh in.

People wanting to express an opinion are welcome to call the town office or to get in touch directly with Titus, Robert Browne or John Melrose.

China Selectman Irene Belanger sent Vassalboro selectmen a third question, an invitation to close the Vassalboro transfer station and share China’s. After a brief discussion, Titus summed up the board’s response: Thanks for asking, but no thanks. Road Foreman Eugene Field reported on preliminary investigation into fixing an old culvert on Cross Hill Road, an issue he raised at the May 31 selectmen’s meeting (see the June 7 issue of The Town Line, p. 3). As expected, the work will be expensive. Field will continue exploring options.

Selectmen accepted Field’s recommendation and awarded the 2018 paving contract to the low bidder, Wellman Paving, of Winterport. As in past years, China and Vassalboro submitted a joint bid; China also chose Wellman.

Sabins told selectmen their notice to tenants of two mobile homes with failing septic systems had been delivered after the mobile home park’s owner took no action. The tenants were being advised to seek legal aid, she said.

The June 28 selectmen’s meeting begins with a 6:30 p.m. public hearing on the Community Development Block Grant awarded to the Vassalboro Sanitary District to help fund the new sewer connection to Winslow.

Before/After School students tour SAPPI

Quality Lab supervisor Raymond Caron showed the children about the paper making process. Contributed photo

The Vassalboro Before/After School Child Care Program was recently treated to a fantastic workshop by SAPPI Fine Paper North America Quality Lab Supervisor, Raymond Caron.

The children learned about soft wood and hard wood trees, how to count rings to determine ages of the trees and were treated to a papermaking process. They each made their own paper and some students even placed pine needles and other objects from nature in their paper. All students received a wood “coin” of their own and samples of how this paper is used in our communities for dog/cat food bags, magazines and even labels for canned products.

Vassalboro voters elect two incumbents

by Mary Grow

At the polls June 12, Vassalboro voters re-elected two incumbent town officials and re-approved the 2018-19 school budget initially approved at the June 4 open town meeting.

Town Clerk Cathy Coyne reported that Selectman John Melrose received 808 votes and school board member Jolene Clark Gamage 786 votes.

The vote on the school budget was 620 in favor and 247 opposed, Coyne said.

She called the turnout “pretty good” for a primary election, with voters coming steadily all day.

VASSALBORO: Interlocal agreement reached

by Mary Grow

The interlocal agreement between Vassalboro and its former partners in AOS (Alternative Organizational Structure) #92, Waterville and Winslow, became effective June 4. It provides for the three municipalities to share central office services previously provided by the AOS office as follows:

  • For special education for all three towns, Waterville will employ a part-time director for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade and an assistant director for grades six through 12; Winslow will employ an assistant director for kindergarten through fifth grade.
  • Winslow will employ a curriculum director and an instructional specialist who will work for Vassalboro and Waterville as well, and a finance director who will work only for Winslow and Vassalboro.
  • Waterville will employ a food service director, a technology director and “personnel to administer business functions including payroll, accounts payable and receivable, insurance, and reporting; and administration of facilities maintenance; administration of student transportation; and will maintain Infinite Campus technology to be shared among the Parties.”

(Infinite Campus, according to its website, is an educational software company that helps schools “streamline educational processes, promote stakeholder collaboration and personalize learning.”)

Each municipality will have a superintendent of schools. For the present, former AOS Superintendent Eric Haley plans to stay in Waterville; former Assistant Superintendent Peter Thiboutot is Winslow superintendent; and Vassalboro is hiring a superintendent for one day a week.

Haley and school board members explained that one day a week does not mean the superintendent will be in Vassalboro for eight or 10 hours one day and not seen again for a week; he or she is more likely to split the time among several days as meetings and other events require.

The superintendent and/or school board of the system hiring the shared personnel listed above will make all hiring and firing decisions. They may consider recommendations from the other superintendents.

Each school’s costs for the shared personnel will be apportioned by the formula used to divide central office costs before voters dissolved the AOS in a March referendum: half on the basis of municipal valuation, half on the basis of student population.

The agreement will run until June 30, 2021. It can be amended or terminated earlier by written agreement of all three school boards.

Some Vassalboro Budget Committee members and selectmen criticized the interlocal agreement on two counts: they suggested the school board should have explored more options and perhaps found comparable services at a lower price, and they think a three-year commitment is too long.

Haley replied to both criticisms. With state education officials’ idea of regional service centers instead of AOSs and RSUs (Regional School Units) so new, there are not yet a lot of options organized, he said. And a three-year agreement has two benefits: the additional staff he hires will have at least a three-year commitment, and Vassalboro board members will have time to adapt to the new system, see how it works and, if dissatisfied, look for an alternative.

Vassalboro planners approve four permit applications

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Planning Board members approved all four permit applications on their June 5 agenda, two for auxiliary buildings, one for a seasonal farm stand and one for a new auto repair garage.

Receiving permits were:

  • John and Paula Libby to build a 30-by-40-foot garage, with no plumbing, at 325 Webber Pond Road, in the Outlet Stream shoreland zone 200 feet from the water. • Forrest and Gloria Young to build a 12-by-16-foot shed, on skids rather than a foundation, at 208 Austin Road, 150 feet from Three Mile Pond.
  • Parker Denico to build and operate a seasonal vegetable stand at 991 Main Street in North Vassalboro.
  • Heather and Eric Smith and David York to open an auto repair and body shop in a section of the old mill at 960 Main Street in North Vassalboro.

Denico previously received a site review permit, but could not get the needed shoreland zoning permit without a variance from setback requirements, because the building will be less than 100 feet from Outlet Stream. The Vassalboro Board of Appeals approved his variance request at a May 15 meeting, clearing the way for final approval of the project.

The Smiths and York plan to reuse a part of the mill previously used for a similar purpose. Their business name is Overkill Garage LLC, Heather Smith said. Their main business will be automobile repairs and body work, but they talked about working on anything with an engine, including ATVs, lawnmowers and chainsaws.

Planning board members were concerned about a trench across the floor that serves as a drain, of unknown age and with an unknown outflow. Board Chairman Virginia Brackett guessed it empties into Outlet Stream.

The first idea was to cover it over, until Heather Smith remembered that it channels rain that leaks in and Codes Officer Richard Dolby suggested it might also be connected to roof drains. Planning board members and the applicants agreed on some kind of barrier to make sure no motor fluids get into the drain.

Dolby said the planning board already has applicants to be heard at the next meeting, scheduled for Tuesday evening, July 10.

He also reported that Jonathan Blumberg asked the board of appeals to reconsider its May 22 denial of Blumberg’s appeal of Dolby’s issuance of a permit to Bernard Welsh (see this article). The board of appeals is scheduled to meet Wednesday evening, June 20, Dolby said.

Vassalboro selectmen agree to give sanitary district TIF funds

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen spent part of their May 31 meeting talking about money for the Vassalboro Sanitary District’s sewer extension to Winslow.

Three VSD board members attended the meeting to ask for money from Vassalboro’s TIF (Tax Increment Finance) fund. They wanted the entire amount on hand; after a public hearing on the request, selectmen voted unanimously to give them $91,628.92, leaving $20,000 in the TIF fund.

The TIF gets its money from taxes paid on the Summit natural gas pipeline that runs through town. Town Manager Mary Sabins said Summit pays about $100,000 a year, an amount that will gradually decrease as the pipeline depreciates.

So far selectmen have approved TIF funds for the sewer connection and for the Alewife Restoration Project.

They reminded VSD Chairman Ray Breton and Treasurer Rebecca Goodrich that TIF money has to be spent on the sewer expansion, as an economic development project, not on VSD’s day-to-day operations.

Breton and Sabins said the project also was awarded a $975,000 state Community Development Block Grant. Sabins said the grant requires two things from the town, which administers it:

• A public hearing, which selectmen scheduled for Thursday evening, June 28; and
• An advisory committee, primarily to answer questions from residents if there are any. Selectmen unanimously appointed Breton, Goodrich and their own board Chairman Lauchlin Titus.

VSD officials’ plan is to create a connection between the sewers in East and North Vassalboro and Winslow, so that Vassalboro’s sewage will go to the Waterville treatment plant and the town’s aging sand filter beds can be closed down. Total cost is estimated at more than $7 million, Breton said.

In other business, Codes Enforcement Officer Richard Dolby reported on numerous issues, especially properties that qualify as unlicensed junkyards. Most of the property-owners had at least started to clean up, some under threat of court dates, and several had made good progress, he said.

He reported on a failed septic system in a mobile home park. Selectmen unanimously approved a formal notice to the park’s owner.

They also approved Sabins’ proposed notices to a North Vassalboro resident who failed to pay back taxes to reclaim his duplex, and to his tenants, who do not need to move out but should plan to pay rent to a new owner. The property will be offered for sale, with bids due at the town office by 4 p.m. Wednesday, June 27.

Public Works Foreman Eugene Field talked with selectmen about paving, the sagging fence at the Three Mile Pond boat landing, a potentially expensive culvert replacement and chainsaws. Selectmen approved his seeking expert advice on the culvert and unanimously authorized replacing one of the chainsaws he bought after the 1998 ice storm.

The next regular Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for Thursday evening, June 14.