After a brief executive session with attorney Bob Fisher, who was representing a private client and not acting in his role as town attorney, the board voted to approve the assignment of glebe lease land to the Hermitage Real Estate Holding Company, LLC, pending a review by an attorney working for the town (not Fisher). The 86-acre glebe parcel forms a portion of the land on which the Haystack Ski Area lies. In the past, the town-owned land has been leased to the owners of the ski area, most recently to G. Tyler Henshaw, an associate of one-time Haystack developer Bob Foisie. Recently Foisie’s company, Alt Charities Inc. (formerly known as 1 Cornell Inc.) won a tax appeal against the town for their Haystack property for more than $30,000.
Additionally, board members agreed to sell their portions of land in two areas identified on the Haystack master plan as Fawn Ridge and High Country to Hermitage Real Estate Holding Company, LLC, also pending a review by an attorney. The parcels currently owned by the town were taken at tax sale over the last several years.
In other matters, the board met with Wilmington School Board Chair Phil Taylor to discuss their role in deciding the final disposition of the high school building should Wilmington and Whitingham approve a consolidation bond. “The general concept is to line up the possibilities that we could use the building for, with the intent of enhancing the economic development of the community,” Taylor said. “I’m here to start a dialogue and find out the level at which you’d like to be involved moving forward.”
Taylor also said the school board may request assistance from the town, including work by economic development specialist Bill Colvin. Colvin noted that his proposed work plan for the next 10 months includes the exploration of a business incubator or business “flex space.”
Taylor also assured the town that the board plans to reserve some use of the building and grounds for the community. “There are rumors that the gym and field space would no longer be available, but that’s not true,” he said. “Our intention is that the gym and field space will be available to the town and maintained by Twin Valley.”
Board member Meg Streeter said the board would like to be involved, particularly as pertains to economic development.
The board has had tentative discussion with the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation regarding the use of the building as a business incubator, and also with Putnam Memorial Health Corporation regarding its potential use as a medical facility. “There’s an argument that this building is going to sit vacant,” Taylor said. “We see a lot of opportunities out there, and we want them to be known.”
Wilmington resident Barbara Cole asked the board to clarify the wishes of Wilmington voters before sanctioning the school board’s plans. She offered a letter that she said was signed by a number of people, “indicating their confusion of the actual results of the vote taken.”
Those who signed the letter believe that results of a nonbinding article on the consolidation ballot are invalid. The question asked voters which of the two proposed consolidation options they prefer. In the final count, there were 130 votes for Option A, and 108 votes for Option B. But 128 people voted “No” to both options, and 38 people didn’t mark any option.
While school board members voted to proceed with the option that garnered the most votes, some voters and at least one board member have interpreted the vote in another way: that 274 people didn’t vote for Option A. “We ask that the overwhelming lack of support for Option A be considered as plans for the bond vote move forward. Reconsideration should be given to the actual intent of the voters, since voters who selected “No” on both options were not considered.”
“I’m not sure this is pertinent to the matter at hand,” said Wilmington Selectboard chair Tom Consolino. “Maybe this should be brought to the school board.”
School board member Adam Grinold agreed with Cole. “I saw this (letter), signed it, and support it,” he said. “I believe a majority of people do not support that option and will not support it going forward. I don’t believe taking the high school is what’s good for Wilmington.” Grinold said there was another community in southern Vermont that lost their high school. “They were recently give the opportunity to get their high school back and were so eager that they voted $2 million in additional expense to ensure that the high school return to their community. That town is Whitingham.”
Whitingham School Board chair Dwight Williams objected to Grinold’s characterization of Whitingham’s motivation. “I can tell you that a majority of the feedback is not that Whitingham wants its high school back, that’s not the initiative behind our support for this option,” he said. “Whitingham wanted better education and the best use of existing facilities. Whitingham has stepped forward and agreed to increase their taxes because, if nothing is done to permanently fix the existing problems, then there isn’t going to be a high school in the Deerfield Valley.”
Board members agreed to work with the school board to plan the best use of the school building, but they said Colvin’s time may be limited. “I think if there were some funds available, it might be less of a concern,” said board member Susan Haughwout.