Weston Board grants Little School rent relief, continues fiber optic consideration

The Little School in Weston. Photo by The Little School

By Cherise Madigan
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Weston Select Board continued to address the local impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic at its Tuesday, Aug. 25 meeting by granting rent relief to The Little School for the remainder of 2020 and exploring the potential for fiber optic internet service in Weston — an increasingly valuable utility in the age of working and learning from home.

Little School Board member Kate Foster explains the financial situation the school is now in.

The board began the meeting with a discussion of The Little School, which rents the Annex Building from the town for $825 per month and has encountered a number of challenges since the beginning of the pandemic in March.

The Little School’s opening has had to be delayed until Oct. 19 due to staffing shortages, making them ineligible for many federal funds available to schools and child care centers.

“Unfortunately, this has been a tough year for The Little School as I’m sure you can imagine,” said Kate Foster, a member of the school’s Board of Directors. She went on to detail how, after having to close its doors in mid-March, The Little School’s opening has had to be delayed until Oct. 19 due to staffing shortages, making them ineligible for many federal funds available to schools and child care centers.

When the school does re-open in October, Foster said, its normal days and hours of operation will need to be limited due to budgetary constraints and the aforementioned staffing shortages. Enrollment had to be limited to obtain smaller class sizes and achieve compliance with Covid-related pre-k guidelines.

On top of that, she said, many of the fundraising events that The Little School has come to rely upon — the Peru Fair and Christmas in Weston, for example — have been canceled due to the pandemic.

“It’s been a tough, interesting year and The Little School Board of Directors and staff are really determined and excited to try to continue” to provide preschool and childcare for working families and the community, Foster said. “We’ve just come up on a lot of challenges this year.”

Select Board member Jim Linville proposed suspending Little School rent for the rest of 2020.

Foster asked the Select Board to consider rent relief, ideally for a 12-month period, adding that the school would continue to pursue additional grants and funding. Currently, The Little School’s rent is paid in full through August. 

“I’m beginning to wonder when the taxpayers are going to balk at how much money we’re throwing into The Little School,” said Board Chair Denis Benson, noting that the board is already planning to install a pricey generator system for both the school and town offices. “I know a lot of people like The Little School and what it does but there are other people that pay taxes and they are questioning the money being spent there. It’s a catch-22 situation.”

While a full year of rent relief was not granted, Vice Chair Jim Linville proposed to suspend rent through 2020 and re-consider during the budgeting season, a motion that was ultimately approved by the board.

 

Board continues considering joining fiber optic union

The board also discussed Weston’s potential addition to the Deerfield Valley Communications Union District — or CUD — with that organization’s vice chair, Steven Johns, who answered questions on time-frame, configuration, obligations from the town and impact on commercial businesses in adding high-speed fiber optic lines.

Deerfield Valley CUD vice chair Steven Johns explains what it would mean for Weston to join the organization.

The CUD was formed as a “quasi-municipal entity” Johns said, made up of representatives from each member town. The CUD has no taxation power, and there would be no financial or legal obligation for Weston’s taxpayers or board members. The town could join through a Select Board vote (which would also need to be approved by the Deerfield CUD Board of Directors) and, if desired, Weston could leave the Union through the same process in the future.

The Union is “anxiously awaiting” a consulting report formulated by the Windham Regional Commission, Johns said, which will then allow the CUD to construct a sustainable business model. That business model will articulate the order in which each member town’s fiber optic needs will be addressed, likely prioritizing the most poorly served populations.

“I don’t think Weston will be first on the list, I won’t make any overarching promises here,” Johns said. “The reason why you may want to consider joining sooner rather than later is because we are in the beginning stages of planning.”

With a representative on the CUD sooner, Weston would have more of a voice in upcoming initiatives like a planned pole study. The study will detail the location and health of existing utility poles in member towns and would assist with the potential use of “dark fiber” or unused fiber laid by the Vermont Electric Power Co. by the CUD. A fiber line will likely be extended into northern Londonderry, near the border with Weston, for a planned solar installation, Johns mentioned, which could result in Weston’s broadband needs being addressed sooner out of convenience.

“Those are the kinds of things that come up in the design, planning and implementation process because of geography,” Johns said.

The town would need to consider the installation of a standing cabinet for a power backup, supplied by the CUD, which could be placed on private or public land. Benson suggested a parcel of town-owned property off Route 100 near Johnson Hill Road.

Though no action was taken at Tuesday’s meeting, the board did agree to continue considering the CUD and review the business plan guidance provided by the Windham Regional Commission.

“With Covid-19 and everything happening, I’m sure there will be a lot of support coming along,” Benson said.

“It’s no way to develop an economy,” Johns agreed, adding that Weston would be welcomed to the Deerfield CUD if they decided to join. “We want families and young people to move into these towns and we’ve got to be connected.”

In other business, the board discussed a planned tree planting project on Boynton Road, a new wastewater system for the Wilder Memorial Library and the proposed generator for The Little School and town offices — which members agreed would not be purchased in 2020 as planned.

“I don’t see any way that we’re going to be able to choose the generator we want, get it sited, built and installed before winter,” Linville said, suggesting that the board push the planned installation back to spring 2021.

While Goodwin suggested that the board consider renting a generator for the coming months, Benson agreed that discussion should continue.

The Weston Select Board will meet next on Tuesday, Sept. 8.

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Filed Under: Covid 19 CoverageEducationEducation NewsFeaturedLatest NewsWeston

About the Author: Journalist and photographer Cherise Madigan specializes in writing about outdoor recreation, the environment and travel. She has roots in Manchester and a history of reporting throughout Southern Vermont. Madigan is a graduate of Nazareth College of Rochester, earning her degree in Political Science summa cum laude in 2015.

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