GMUSD board chair says town failed to share info on water system problem

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

What did school authorities know and when did they know it became the focus of the Sept. 19 Chester Select Board as Green Mountain Unified School District board chair Marilyn Mahusky chided the town for not informing the school of the water system deficiency that led to one of the leaks that has the Chester-Andover Elementary School closed at least until early November.

GMUHS board chair Marilyn Mahusky brings concerns to the Chester Select Board. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Mahusky said that an engineering report prepared in 2015 for the town’s water system upgrade mentioned the problem, but that it was never sent to the school. Mahusky told the board that, “For something this big it’s really problematic the school board was never provided with an official copy of this report when it came out in 2015.”

Mahusky said that she and Two Rivers Superintendent Meg Powden had recently brought their concerns to Chester Town Manager David Pisha and the Water Department. “We were given short shrift and it was really quite dismissive.”

But members of the Select Board pushed back. Board chair Arne Jonynas – who has served on both the Chester-Andover and Green Mountain High school boards in the past – said that the undersized main installed in the early to mid 1950s was known to the school board in the past but apparently that information had not made its way forward in time.

Board member and Assistant Fire Chief Ben Whalen said that 18 years ago, as a 15-year-old Explorer, he was told that everybody knew that the hydrant in front of the school was not working because there isn’t enough flow out of it. He added that on the Friday of the first flood, he did a walk-through of the building with Facilities Manager Jim Spaulding, who told Whalen that, before the flooding happened, he had been working on getting a capital project going on the issue.

On the Monday morning after the select board meeting, Spaulding confirmed the conversation with Whalen.

Other town employees later said that they kept the school system aware of the problems. For that story, click here.

Architectural historian calls Yosemite ‘really great building’

The Select Board heard from Vermont’s State architectural historian on his recent visit to the Yosemite Fire House. By phone, Devin Coleman told the board Yosemite was a “really great building,” noting that he looks at a lot of buildings that will take a lot of time and money to preserve but that “is not at all the way with Yosemite. Nothing jumped out at us as a huge concern.”

Vermont State Architectural Historian Devin Coleman speaks during his visit to the Yosemite Fire House in late Aug.

“What is especially important is the equipment,” said Coleman, referring to the engine and pumper, ladders, hoses.  “It’s pretty unusual to have those items in the building where they lived in the past.”

Coleman counseled the board to take a “phased approach” and to tick things off as they move forward. And he agreed with Jonynas that it would be a long process.

Asked about the effect of a National Register of Historic Places designation on the town’s ability to use the building or to make changes, Coleman described the Register as an “honorific” that documents the significance of the structure but doesn’t place any restrictions on it.

“You could list a building one day and tear it down the next,” said Coleman.

“The confusion comes in when you are using state or federal funds,” said Coleman. “Then you have to follow the requirements of the grant.”

Coleman said he was accompanied on the visit by Caitlin Corkins, who administers historic preservation grants for the State of Vermont and she was excited by the building’s potential.

Before hearing from Coleman, the board considered whether the Historic Building Committee should remain informal and advisory or whether it should be an official committee of the board since it has asked to be given the lead on turning Yosemite into a fire museum.

The main difference would be that as an official committee the group would have to abide by the Open Meetings and Public Records laws. The board decided to consult the Vermont League of Cities and Towns on the matter.

In other business

The board approved the loan of $35,000 from the Chester Economic Development Fund to the Highway Department to replace a 1-ton dump truck that died. Board member Dan Cote objected to the use of the fund for the loan, asking if this was allowed. Pisha explained that the town has borrowed from the fund before including money to purchase new water meters. Those loans were paid back to the fund with interest.

The fund was set up to lend money to businesses in town to help with funding of capital projects. In recent years however, the board has approved several expenditures – not loans – from the fund in the name of economic development including $30,000 for paving and striping Common Street in front of the Green and $10,000 for an ill-fated town website.

Cote said he didn’t have a problem with the need for a new truck, but rather with the method of financing it. In the end, the loan passed with Jonynas, Ben Whalen and Lee Gustafson voting for the loan and Cote and Heather Chase voting no.

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