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Trail blazing

Some Vermont ski areas are finding ways to stay independent, bucking the industry trend of consolidation. B4

Rail — VT ARTS


The Carpenters Tribute Concert, starring Sally Olson and Ned Mills, comes to Brandon Town Hall on Friday, Oct. 18. D1


Getting colder

With fall in full swing and winter approaching, there is a list of tasks that must be completed to maintain a healthy garden. C1

Rail topper

“I was ... incredulous that the U.S. government chose to remove an ambassador based, as best as I can tell, on unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.” — B6

Ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

Brandon’s local opera company
Barn Opera working on a bigger barn

BRANDON — Barn Opera is getting a bigger barn.

“We were selling out all of our performances and people weren’t able to get tickets,” said Russ McColman, technical director for Barn Opera, a recently formed nonprofit under the auspices of the Compass Music and Arts Foundation. “It became obvious we just needed a bigger venue.”

Joshua Collier, artistic director of Barn Opera, said the group has been staging opera performances in a barn owned by the foundation for the past few years. The barn there can seat about 60. The new barn, just over the Sanderson Covered Bridge on Pearl Street, will be able to hold 120.

Collier said in a Friday interview that if all goes well, the new barn will be ready to host operas by May.

The project went before the town’s Development Review Board on Sept. 10. Collier said the DRB has yet to release a decision. Meanwhile there’s an Act 250 hearing scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 23 at Town Hall.

“It’s in need of some repair and maintenance,” said McColman. “What we’re trying to do is shore up the outside, which we certainly can do before we get our certificates and Act 250 and so on.”

The barn was once part of a dairy farm until the 1990s. It’s believed to have been built in the 1850s, and is in remarkably good condition, McColman said.

Collier said the barn, surrounding land and house across the street were all one property owned by Jim and Nancy Leary. He and McColman discovered it while looking for a bigger barn for Barn Opera.

“Josh and I looked at pretty much every barn from Pittsford to Leicester trying to find one that would fit,” McColman said. “It doesn’t get any more Vermont than this. You come across a covered bridge, and there it is.”

Collier said the Learys didn’t want to sell just the barn, so the entire property had to be purchased, except Barn Opera couldn’t pick up the house. Collier and his family, however, could. He was in the middle of moving in on Friday when he spoke to the Herald.

The whole property sold for $360,000, Collier said. It was worked out so that he bought the house for half that, while Barn Opera got the barn plus 10 acres for the other half. He said it’s convenient, as he doesn’t have to go far to tend the barn.

Next to the barn is a silo, which Collier and McColman plan to see cleaned up. Beside that is another barn structure with solar panels on the roof. These power the barn and house.

“Our permitting will allow us 28 days of public occupancy,” said Collier. “I imagine we’ll continue on doing four shows a year with two performances of each show. I imagine we’ll have some other events, but I don’t have information on just what those will be.”

McColman said Barn Opera isn’t intending to make a profit, but he and Collier think it will help improve Brandon’s fortunes by using the arts as an economic draw.

“This is strictly for the betterment of the community, for the betterment of Brandon, to bring this kind of entertainment, this kind of culture, to the town,” McColman said.

Collier said Barn Opera has drawn people to Brandon from overseas. One woman, from Ireland, was particularly enamored with the company. “She came here, she saw the show, was amazed and now has season tickets and plans her trips to the United States around our performances,” he said. “We’re bringing financial resources from New York, from Connecticut, from Montreal, into the town. They’re not just seeing the opera, either. They’re going to have dinner at the café, they’re going to stay at the bed and breakfast, they’re going to spend money here. This is not economic development for us personally, it’s for the town, and it grows the culture.”

More information about Barn Opera can be found at www.barnopera.com



Kilcullen: Shots fired at police station 'unsettling'

Rutland City Police Chief Brian Kilcullen said Wednesday that members of the police department and the community came together in response to the shots fired at the Wales Street police station on Tuesday morning.

“We stress the importance of officer safety all the time. Typically when we talk about officer safety, it’s in the context of responding to calls for service, kind of outside the station. While the building is secure, this is certainly nothing that we would expect. It’s something that’s a little unsettling, I should say,” he said.

The police station is used as working space for the trained officers of the city police department, but Kilcullen pointed out the department also has many civilian employees who “really are the front lines for anyone coming through the station.” He said they were the most affected by the shots being fired at the station.

The people directly affected will be required to seek counseling, which will be provided by the department, Kilcullen said.

According to Kilcullen, there was a dispatcher and a couple of police officers in the building at the time.

“As I said, it’s a little unsettling because I think the department and the building, to some extent, represents the safety and security of the entire city and for this to happen at a location like this, as I said, was a little unsettling,” he said.

The police station remained open Tuesday but Kilcullen said the front entrance was closed for part of the day while the broken glass was removed. Arrangements were made to escort people through the back for those who needed police services.

Mayor David Allaire said he believed the incident showed “the resiliency of this department,” whose members didn’t know if other violence would follow the first shots.

“By all accounts, the men and women over here conducted themselves in a way that should make the community be proud. That’s certainly the way I view it,” he said.

Kilcullen said the shots broke the glass of an exterior door and an interior wall. He said he didn’t expect it would mean any increase for the police budget to make repairs.

Around 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, a person fired two shots at the Rutland City Police Station. During a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Vermont State Police Criminal Division Cmdr. Daniel Trudeau said police believed the shooter was Christopher G. Louras, 33, of Rutland.

Surveillance equipment allowed police to identify the car. Police spotted the car about 90 minutes later near the Amtrak station and pursued the car, resulting in a shootout that left Louras, whom police said was armed with a Smith & Wesson M&P-15 rifle, dead. No one else was injured at that time.

However, police also found a body in Salisbury, identified Thursday as Christopher G. Louras’ cousin, Nicholas Louras, 34, of Rutland.

Police said on Thursday they were still investigating the incident and trying to determine the motive for Christopher Louras’ action.

Christopher G. Louras is the son of former Rutland mayor Christopher C. Louras. Nicholas Louras is the nephew of Allaire.

Kilcullen acknowledged the challenge of continuing to provide service to the community after an incident that could have had even more serious consequences than a damaged building.

However, he said the Rutland community was very supportive of the department. Internally, Kilcullen said, officers who weren’t even on duty were coming in early or during their off-hours to support those most directly affected.

Cmdr. David LaChance said Friday the incident was like “somebody attacked your home.”

“This is home for a lot of people. It’s home for us. We treat this like a home. We’re like a close-knit family,” he said.

As a police officer, LaChance said an incident like the one Tuesday causes “heightened concern.” If someone is willing to shoot at a police station, there are concerns about what they might do that could hurt the civilian population, he said.

LaChance said police were concerned that something else was going to follow the first two shots.

He said he hoped Rutland residents would understand that the possibility of an attack like the one on Tuesday was why the police station had so many security features.

A critical incident debriefing will be scheduled in the coming week for officers and staff to review what happened and look for ways to make the building safer.



State opposes dismissal of murder charge

Rutland County State’s Attorney Rose Kennedy is asking the local criminal court not to dismiss a murder charge against a Mount Tabor woman and let the jury make that decision instead.

Peggy Lee Shores, 53, of Mount Tabor, was arraigned in Rutland criminal court in February 2017 on a felony charge of second-degree murder after police accused her of shooting and killing her husband, David Shores, 54, in their home in December 2016.

Last month, Shore’s’ attorney, Steven Howard, filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the murder charge against his client.

Howard’s motion was based on the findings of a forensics expert working for Shores’ defense. The forensic consultant, Christopher Robinson, prepared a one-page report that said he concluded David Shores “died as a result of self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.”

The state responded this week with a request that Shores’ motion be denied.

The state’s response, submitted by Kennedy and Travis Weaver, a Rutland County Deputy State’s Attorney, repeats the state’s theory of the case. While Peggy Shores told police her husband was holding a gun, fell and accidentally shot himself, the response said evidence gathered by the Vermont medical examiner and Vermont State Police officers who investigated the shooting concluded that David Shores could not have been holding the gun.

Kennedy’s response cites the Vermont standard for ruling on a motion to dismiss, which includes the description that the evidence should be “taken in the light most favorable to the state and excluding modifying evidence.”

While the response raises questions about Robinson’s conclusions, the prosecutors argued it’s not the point.

“Even if taken at face value, Mr. Robinson’s testimony creates contradictory evidence that will need to be be resolved by a jury, as the trier of fact. As such, it is modifying evidence and should not be considered by the court in deciding a motion to dismiss,” the response said.

Kennedy and Weaver said in their response the state has other evidence they intend to use if the case goes to trial.

“The state intends to corroborate this evidence with its own analysis of the trajectory, which shows that the location of the bullet, the entry wound and the exit wound would be consistent with David Shores being shot while standing at the bottom of the stairs by a shooter standing near the top of the stairs,” the response said.

The prosecutors said they intend to challenge Robinson’s status as an expert witness if the case goes to trial. They said Robinson “currently makes his living working as a paid-for-hire witness for defense attorneys” who has a “bias to produce a defense-friendly report.”

If the judge in the case schedules an evidentiary hearing, the prosecutors in the state’s attorney’s office plan to respond by calling investigators from Vermont law-enforcement agencies who would defend the conclusions in the police affidavit, according to the response.

“None of this should be necessary. The evidence proffered by (Peggy Shores) is clearly modifying evidence under Stolte and Breer (precedent-setting cases.) (Shores) is asking the court to weigh various types of scientific evidence against each other and to decide on the credibility of competing expert witnesses. These are precisely the questions that our system reserves for the jury,” the response said.

A hearing was scheduled in Rutland criminal court Tuesday in response to the motions, but Weaver told the court Kennedy wasn’t available and asked the hearing be moved to Wednesday. Many law-enforcement staff were busy Tuesday because of an officer-involved shooting that took place in downtown Rutland.

Howard said he was not opposed to moving the hearing to Wednesday.

According to court records, the judge asked court staff Wednesday to find a day that was open for arguments on both motions. The date had not yet been scheduled as of Friday afternoon, but a conference scheduled in the case for next week has been canceled.

Peggy Shores has been held in jail since she was arraigned in February 2017.



Wolk in his shoes: One month in, David Wolk plans for his district

It’s been 20 years since David Wolk sat in his old job and his return will bring some changes to schools and to the district, including moving Rutland Middle School Principal Deb Hathaway to the administrative building for a support staff role and moving math teacher Pati Beaumont into the principal’s office.

Hathaway has accepted a position as grant writer and project manager at the district, as which Wolk said she’ll be instrumental in analyzing data and exploring new opportunities for programs, funding and project development.

“(She has) served as principal in two elementary and middle schools for a total of more than 15 years,” Wolk said of Beaumont in a letter sent home to parents Friday. “Her background in leading for academic excellence, in a team problem-solving format, will benefit Rutland Middle School.”

And now, Wolk is settling into his once and future role, getting to know the systems, learn the ropes and understand the challenges facing youth in Rutland.

“At first, my heart said yes and my head said no,” Wolk said of accepting the position. “But it was hard to resist the temptation to come back and try to make a difference. ... The challenges, which turn in opportunities, are greater than they were 20 years ago.” Former superintendent, commissioner of Education, senator, teacher, principal and president of Castleton University, Wolk said coming back to his old job and meeting all of the new educators was a warm return to a profession his heart never left: education.

“One of the teachers at the middle school said, ‘I remember you from high school, right?” That was 40 years ago. … One of the benefits of doing this for 45 years is, one has the opportunity for educating not only the children, but grandchildren of former students. That really warms my heart.”

Wolk said in all his years of experience guiding the students of Rutland County and at Castleton, he came to understand that the health and well-being of the student body — their creativity, their educational successes and failures, and their ability to grow past some of the most difficult years of their life with hope for the future, often provided a mirror into the greater population that the schools serve. Rutland has a history of deriving hope from its strong academic structures, scoring high district-wise when compared to the state, but Wolk said now, at the helm of the ship, he can more clearly see the road ahead for Rutland’s students and teachers.

“Children might be in poverty and affected by parents or those around them who are using and abusing drugs,” Wolk said. “I think there’s an element as a result of that, an element of behavior challenges that are there now that weren’t pronounced 20 years ago. The key is to help children as they are.” As a result, many educators then become surrogate parents while at school, a shift he said is happening all across the state and region, he said.

But forcing a child to adhere to learning systems when they’re undergoing stressors and situations that render them unable to adjust to certain methods and succeed in their education is, therefore, not a path Wolk said he plans to take.

“You have to meet their needs,” Wolk said. “Some children may do better with hands-on learning, small group learning, and some have psychological needs that deserve to be addressed by the school. At the same time, you need an education that’s stimulating in the schools, and teachers that are passionate and dedicated.”

Fortunately, Rutland is well-stocked with passionate and well-rounded staff and educators, Wolk said, and in the last month of going around to visit every teacher, custodian, educator and staff member, became continuously more inspired by their well-rounded methods and empathy.

“When you’re a teacher, you change lives,” Wolk said. “You become an educator because you want to be transformational.”

Wolk said he planned to secure a safe, orderly, disciplinary environment, as he knows disrespectful and disruptive behavior has no place in the classroom or the school. He plans to take an empathetic approach to understanding the internal needs of those students. “Children who act like that often don’t mean to be that way,” Wolk said. “It’s often a reflection of other aspects of their lives.”

To remedy some of the issues plaguing today’s youth, Wolk argued for the implementation of alternative programs to serve students who aren’t thriving in a traditional school environment. “We’re expanding the Allen Street Campus,” Wolk said. “We’re going to start looking at more hands-on learning, outdoor programs, project adventure — and off-campus programs that will meet their needs.”

Wolk said they’re hoping to collaborate with the MINT Makerspace during daylight hours and the possible transition of Stafford Tech students who may thrive in that type of environment, still working toward their diploma with the help of the shop.

Already, Wolk said they’re working on assigning and reassigning extra help where it’s needed, and have moved several students to the Allen Street Campus, and coming up with more nontraditional settings for the district’s students.

But one of his favorite places to be, Wolk said, is the new campus at 77 Grove St., as some of the staff members there have familiar faces, including educator TJ Moran, one of his former students.



Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo  

Pumpkin carvers get busy

A crew of volunteers from the National Life Group carve more than 100 pumpkins Friday in preparation for Saturday’s Enchanted Forest event in Montpelier’s Hubbard Park. The annual celebration explores the mystery of nature with theater, storytelling, wagon rides, candlelit trails and more on a magical walk through the park and runs from 3 to 8 p.m.