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CSJ board leader hopeful for future

Officials at College of St. Joseph are not naming a potential partner who could help the school retain its accreditation, but Jay Kenlan, chairman of the college board of trustees, said the board voted unanimously to support a plan put forward by President Jennifer Scott.

“I think the entire board realized that the decision that we made (Monday) was a decision to either support Jennifer’s plan or to close the college. We didn’t have a Plan B. Plan A was what was being proposed by Jennifer and it seemed to be the only viable choice for getting us through this and I think everyone on the board and all the staff and faculty and, hopefully, students as well, understand that. No one is contemplating the changes that Jennifer may have to make in that college easily or without a lot of soul-searching, but it’s the only choice we have,” Kenlan said.

Among the possible changes at the college are a reduction in staffing and sending undergraduates to other colleges, Kenlan said.

However, Kenlan said board members are optimistic about the future of CSJ.

“I will tell you that the plan is a plan that we believe, when we present the plan to NECHE (the New England Commission of Higher Education), the accrediting entity, will be satisfactory to them, and we hope that they will agree to withdraw their withdrawal of our accreditation and leave us in the condition we were in before that,” he said.

Scott explained her proposal to the board of trustees Monday. Kenlan said the meeting took place in an executive session but faculty and staff members were invited to attend.

Kenlan said he couldn’t explain all the details of the plan. Last week, Scott posted to the CSJ website that the college may have found a partner that could help the school weather its current crisis, but neither Scott nor Kenlan has identified the partner.

“Certain parts of the plan are still confidential, partly because we have a confidentiality agreement with the entity that Jennifer has been talking with,” Kenlan said on Tuesday.

The plan was divided into three parts by Kenlan. The first would involve working with the prospective partner on a time frame and process to resolve CSJ’s financial issues.

The second part involves the college’s obligation to its students to make sure the college would have enough substance to offer students and to be sure students wouldn’t be harmed by the changes.

“Hopefully, at the end of the probation period or prior to the end of the probation period, (CSJ would) recover sufficiently to enable the college to continue beyond that,” Kenlan said.

The final part is a financial plan that Kenlan said CSJ officials are hoping could play out over the two-year probationary period that NECHE established in August. A decision by NECHE in December seemed to supersede that probation and set the withdrawal for CSJ’s accreditation at the end of the current semester unless the college can demonstrate its economic viability by April 1.

The unanimous approval by the board of trustees allows Scott to continue negotiating with the partner.

Asked if the plan would change staffing or what CSJ offers, Kenlan said, “In all likelihood, it will.”

Kenlan said Scott’s plan could result in “reduction of programs, changes in programs, possible teach-out of undergraduates during that time.”

“Teach-out is, I guess, the college buzzword for finding another institution that will accept our students so they will deliver the programs that we would have otherwise delivered to them,” he said.

The problems at CSJ are happening at a challenging time for small Vermont colleges. Officials at Green Mountain College in Poultney and Southern Vermont College in Bennington have already announced those colleges will close at the end of their current semesters, and Goddard College, in Plainfield, is on accreditation probation.

At all four colleges, including CSJ, NECHE has not raised issues of the quality of education but whether the colleges are financially viable.

According to Kenlan, Scott has worked hard to avoid having to close CSJ.

“I think she structured her approach accordingly so even if we have to do some fairly substantial restructuring, it will keep the college alive and give us the opportunity to continue on. That, in (Scott’s) mind and I think in the minds of the board is really the primary objective here,” Kenlan said.

Kenlan said he didn’t believe the plans for CSJ were created in response to the action of other colleges.

On March 6, Scott hosted a meeting with faculty, staff and students at the college.

“One of the marching orders or ground rules that we have is to try to play our cards face up on the table as much as we can with students, staff and faculty. From my perspective, the most important people in this discussion are the students,” he said.

Kenlan said he believed Scott felt the same way but added that some parts of the proposal have not been shared because they’re not finalized.

“We’ll see. We’re not out of the woods yet by far. We could end up closing in a year or two. We haven’t gotten past April 1,” he said.

On Tuesday, Kenlan said the board of trustees had a great deal of faith in Scott and her ability to keep the college open.

A reporter from the Rutland Herald was turned away from both the March 6 meeting and the Monday meeting of the board of trustees.

Scott declined to comment for this story on Tuesday.

Photo by Jon Olender  

Chris Stanton holds Fair Haven’s new Pet Mayor, Lincoln, as she is sworn in by Town Clerk Suzanne DeChame, right, during a quick ceremony during a Select Board meeting Tuesday evening. Lincoln’s goat friend, Lucy, is at left.

City at work on sign ordinance

City officials are promising careful consideration of the proposed sign ordinance.

The Planning Commission’s draft was unveiled and sent to the Board of Aldermen for consideration in early January. The Charter and Ordinance Committee held a hearing on it late last month, presided over by Alderman Christopher Ettori, the committee’s vice chairman. Ettori said with the annual post-election reorganization of the board taking place next week, the next hearing won’t happen before April at the earliest.

The ordinance, aimed at beautifying the city’s commercial districts, reduces the largest allowable size of signs in the city, bans internally lit signs outside downtown and bans signs with electronic messages. Existing signs would be grandfathered, though a number of circumstances could trigger a requirement that businesses bring their signs into compliance with the newer rules. Also, the ordinance divides the city into five districts with different signage rules.

The committee ended the last meeting with a list of questions and discussion points.

“We really were trying to look at parts of the sign ordinance,” he said. “I don’t think anyone has a sense of the ordinance overall, where it’s going to go.”

Ettori said his sense of the board was that the general opinion is that the ordinance contains “a good product,” but needs to be thoroughly examined.

“I know it won’t look exactly like the proposed ordinance, but I do think something will come out of committee, and we’ll have something in a couple months,” he said.

The discussion points generated by the committee include the rationale for the size requirements, whether the districts should be rearranged to map to city zoning, and if the enforcement mechanisms make sense. Ettori said he personally had concerns that the bar for removing a sign from grandfathered status might be too low, and he questioned restricting internally lit signs to downtown as well.

“I’m not sure that makes the most sense on Route 7 South,” he said.

Mayor David Allaire, meanwhile, said he is concerned that the ordinance seems “rather prohibitive,” and he wants to have a discussion with the business community.

“Some of the new businesses that have come in, I’ve noticed they are voluntarily putting in smaller signs,” he said during a mayoral debate prior to the election. “That seems to be the trend.”

Allaire said he took this trend as evidence that regulation was not needed.


Photo by Jon Olender  

Kent Pond Crossing

A cross-country skier glides by an ice fisherman with his dogs late in the day Tuesday afternoon at Kent Pond in Killington.

After October fire
Burned Vermont Country Store warehouse won't be rebuilt, expansion instead

NORTH CLARENDON — The Vermont Country Store says it won’t rebuild a 16,000-square-foot warehouse on Route 7B that burned down in October, but will instead add 12,000 square feet to its existing facility in the spring.

The building that burned down was bought by Vermont Country Store in July and was used to store retail items meant for sale during the holidays. The building hadn’t yet been equipped with a sprinkler system when a fire alarm alerted the Clarendon Fire Department to the blaze. It was a large, stubborn fire that was fought by the Clarendon, Killington, Danby, Mount Holly, Proctor, Chittenden, Rutland City, Rutland Town, West Rutland, Tinmouth, Wallingford and Shrewsbury fire departments, along with help from Rutland Regional Ambulance.

The warehouse wasn’t occupied when the fire occurred and there were no reported injuries. The building was considered a total loss and was torn down. Police said the cause of the fire was undetermined, but not suspicious.

The building was an overflow warehouse, and while the value of the items inside was estimated to be in the millions of dollars, its loss didn’t disrupt holiday operations nor cost any seasonal workers their jobs.

“As we considered what to do next, it made the most sense for us to expand the existing footprint at our warehouse, rather than rebuild at the property on Route 7B,” said Vermont Country Store owner Eliot Orton in a Tuesday statement. “We had considered expanding this facility in the past, so we had a design ready and some permits in place, which will expedite the construction process. This will potentially give us access to new space this fall, and allows us to maintain our inventory in one location, which has the greatest efficiency. Given the options, this is the one that is best for our business.”

William Burke, district coordinator for the District 1 Environmental Commission, said Tuesday he recently spoke with Vermont Country Store employees for an informal pre-application meeting.

He said the company hasn’t yet filed for an Act 250 permit, but is expected to do so soon. Since it’s an addition to an existing structure in an industrial park, he doesn’t anticipate it being considered a major application, but that will be determined by the District 1 Environmental Commission.

Kara Soulia, director of operations for Vermont Country Store, said Tuesday the company is still looking at what town and state permits it will need for the expansion. She said the plan is to have the needed applications filed within the next few weeks so they can be ready in time for construction in the spring.

“As it turns out we probably won’t need the 7B property where the old warehouse stood,” Orton said. “It would be an ideal location for the right business or builder who wants to locate as close as possible to the airport industrial park and one of the biggest employment centers in the region.”

The site of the former warehouse is close to the Rutland-Southern Vermont Regional Airport.

According to Ann Warrell, community relations and communications manager for Vermont Country Store, the new construction will encompass 12,000 square feet and should be ready to store items by fall.

The addition won’t affect seasonal or year-round staffing levels.



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