Mill to host Tech Jam; F-35 update; city history, upcoming events

Tech Jam at Champlain Mill highlights city’s growing stature as tech center

See photo on Winooski Bridge Facebook page

Wednesday, Oct. 17, Winooski resident and Seven Days newspaper writer Cathy Resmer told a small crowd assembled at the Champlain Mill how the face of Winooski industry has changed “from textile to tech style.” 

“That says it all,” Resmer said. Judging by the appreciative laugh at the clever homonym, the crowd, including Gov. Peter Shumlin, seemed to agree. Standing on the third floor of what used to be one of New England’s largest producers of wool blankets, Resmer was also standing beneath the huge logo of MyWebGrocer, the web-based business begun by the Tarrant brothers that has grown to 180 employees.

The Mill will host not one but two major tech events during the next 10 days. The Hackathon, being held there over a 24 hour period this Friday and Saturday, has more than 100 participants enrolled, with contributed prizes and local food and beverage companies providing treats. $10,000 in cash and prizes are up for grabs. Participants are charged with creating a digital product, app, website or widget to benefit the state of Vermont. The competition is seen as a means of recruitment and to build awareness, creating an opportunity for bright computer minds to showcase their skills, according to Susan Allen, a spokesperson for Gov. Shumlin.

The following weekend, the Mill will host the sixth annual Vermont Tech Jam. This free, two-day job fair and tech expo is also sponsored by MyWebGrocer and Dealer.com, and organized by the Vermont Technology Alliance and Seven Days, Allen said. It will take place Friday and Saturday Oct. 26-27. More than 70 Vermont companies will be recruiting staff and interns. Representatives from several Vermont schools will attend the Jam to discuss training opportunities for high school students and career changers. Vermont start-ups and makers will be demonstrating video games, 3-D printers and programmable robots.

Resmer calls the event “the largest concentration of local tech talent under one roof. We’ve heard from many people who’ve told us they found their job – or hired employees or interns – because of the Tech Jam.” About 30 Winooski High students are scheduled to attend, Resmer said.

During his remarks at the Tech Jam kickoff Wednesday, Gov. Shumlin noted that MyWebGrocer’s move to the Mill would not have happened without the hard work of Mayor Michael O’Brien and City Manager Deac Decarreau. Whoever is responsible, it appears that that Winooski is becoming a hi-tech magnet. The Mill also houses Physician’s Computer Company, a software/consulting firm for pediatricians, and New Breed Marketing, a digital marketing firm. Over on West Canal Street, about 25 people are employed at Reading Plus, a company with a web-based silent reading program. Located on Tigan Street in the city’s industrial park, BioTek Instruments, Inc. has long been a global leader in the development, manufacture and sale of microplate instrumentation and software.

For a Tech Jam schedule and full list of sponsors and exhibitors, go to www.techjamvt.com.

New data: more homes in F-35 fly zone than claimed by Air Force

About 2600 homes are in the city’s F-35 flyover zone, according to information developed by resident Horace Shaw. As a result, several city residents at  asked the City Council Oct. 15 to demand to the U.S. Air Force and the state’s congressional delegation that all decisions be postponed until the actual number of affected homes is determined.

Shaw, a retired GIS technician, said he studied the city’s grand list, with appraiser Steve Allen, and compared it with a city tax map to determine the number of affected housing units. He described his scenario as “worst case.” The Air Force reportedly estimates 1366 homes are in the F-35 flyover zone.

The Council directed City Manager Deac Decarreau to draft a letter to the Air Force, supporting a recalculation of the impact, and asking that a siting decision be withheld until the information is confirmed.

“This needs to go back several stages, so that every citizen is informed….we are asking that this process be held until the information is confirmed,” an F-35 opponent. Councilor Megan Moir said she agrees with this request.

“You are being unfair to the citizens of the city if you are not more demanding that the issues be addressed,” resident Michael Mahoney said. “If the issue is not fairly studied, we are the ones who will receive the brunt of those results.”

“We’re taking all the steps we can, that if that does happen, we have a voice with the governor, and with the guard, that they will do everything they can to mitigate the noise, to make it no worse than it is today, maybe even better,” O’Brien said. “No matter what happens, this community will continue to thrive, to grow, we have to keep a positive attitude.”

“I’m not convinced Winooski will be the same,” an F-35 opponent retorted. “I had every intention of buying a home in Winooski, but I can tell you right now, that I am not. If buyers are driven away, Winooski may not recover.”

Resident Eileen Andreoli suggested the City Council consider joining other municipalities in a lawsuit, if the planes are located here and the sound really is a problem.

Haunted Winooski to take place Oct. 26 – 31

“Haunted Winooski” is a city-wide, week-long celebration of Halloween being organized by the Winooski Welcome Center, Oct. 26 -31.

According to an announcement in the school district newsletter, planned activities include a masquerade ball (see more about that below), dining specials, storytelling events, zombie walks, a constume parade, and music events. To volunteer or gather more information, email info@winooskiwelcomecenter.com, call 399-2670, or visit www.winooskiwelcomecenter.com.

Jodi Harrington writes: Saturday, Oct. 27 there will be a masquerade ball fundraiser at the Winooski Welcome Center Gallery for the Winooski Community Partnership (think Farmer's Market and supporting the historic downtown). Click here for tickets to the gala event (masks and a little elegant...save the blood and guts for Halloween. Only 200 tickets will be sold. There will be great food, cash Monkey House bar, and DJ Tricky Pat to keep the ball rocking.  What?  No mask?  No worries....there will be a variety available, from custom knit, Jude Bond, pieces of art to your basic cheapo eye pieces.  Also, parking will be free in the parking garage right behind the gallery, which is located on the traffic circle.

Welcome Center Gallery to become holiday art market for Nov., Dec.

In November and December 2012, the Winooski Welcome Center Gallery on the circle in Winooski will be converted into a vibrant art market for the holiday season. The market will feature art, fine craft, and other locally made products from around the region. The market will be open Wednesday to Saturday from 11 am – 8 pm Sunday 10 am – 3 pm.  A series of special events will be planned in the space.

In addition to being a showcase for fine art and fine craft, the Winooski Holiday Art Market will be an opportunity to discover the shops and restaurants of Downtown Winooski. Lined with brick sidewalks, welcoming window awnings, and a faint whispering sound of the Winooski River – homes and offices are intermingled with restaurants, a market & deli, and a bakery. Downtown Winooski has been transformed into a vibrant city center with an eclectic mix of residential, retail, parkland, and public space.

In 2011, Kasini House and Jodi Harrington produced a Pop-up Art Market during a six-week period during November and December in a temporary space. Twenty-five vendors participated, and the market sold $14,000 gross, an average of $560 per vendor.
The space has since become the Winooski Welcome Center and Gallery, a permanent space.

Fascinating history of Winooski Block told in new Historical Society newsletter

Winooski historian Al Blondin tells the story of the Winooski Block, from Ira Allen to the involvement of people named Lafountain, Leclair, and Chase (sound familiar?) to McKee’s Pub, in the Fall, 2012 issue of the Winooski Historical Society newsletter. I found my copy at the City Clerk’s office. It’s not available online yet at www.onioncity.com, but perhaps it will be soon.

The story concludes with an account of how an artist in 1979 fashioned a replacement for the original Eagle wood carving, which had graced the roofline of the prominent building but had fallen into disrepair. I can add a little footnote to that story: when I founded the Winooski Eagle, an official of the Winooski Community Development Corp. allowed me to use her artist’s rendering of the Winooski Block Eagle as the “flag” for the new newspaper. So for those of you who read the Eagle, if the picture on the top of the front page looked familiar – there’s a good reason. You probably drove past its likeness, and still do today!

To contact the Winooski Historical Society, email winooskihistory@yahoo.com.

– the editor


Oct. 18-19 – No school, due to parent-teacher conferences.

Oct. 19 – Varsity Football game, 7 pm, home vs. Mt. Abraham.

Oct. 20 – Girls Varsity Soccer game, 6 pm, home vs. Oxbow. Click here for more sports calendar info.

Oct. 21 – Civil War Re-enactor Bill Preston, a “sutler” who sells provisions to the Union Army, will re-enact and give a brief history of the war, noon – 1:30 pm at the Winooski Senior Center.

Oct. 21 - 10AM-2PM - The Winooski Welcome Center & Gallery is hosting a Book Sale to benefit the Winooski Memorial Library. The book sale begins just as the 24-Hour Comics Day in Vermont wraps up at 10AM.

Oct. 23 – the Winooski Library will hold its regular Story Hour, 10:30 – 11:30 am, hosted by Marilyn Scoville. The theme is pumpkins. The library is located on the second floor of the Champlain Mill. For more information call 655-6424.

Oct. 25 – St. Francis Xavier School will celebrate its 13th annual International Night beginning at 6:00.  Each class, from pre-kindergarten to grade 8, has selected a different country to study and students will present reports on their country’s government, history, economy, culture, religions and languages. Classrooms are decorated with flags, reproductions of distinctive artwork or architecture and images associated with the particular country. Many students are attired in their particular country’s national colors or native costumes. There is also a wide assortment of food associated with the different countries to sample in every classroom. Members of the general public are welcome to attend.

Oct. 26-27 – sixth annual Tech Jam, Champlain Mill.  Free, two-day job fair and tech expo sponsored by MyWebGrocer and Dealer.com, and organized by the Vermont Technology Alliance and Seven Days.

Oct. 27 - Masquerade Ball at the Winooski Welcome Center Gallery, fundraiser for the Winooski Community Partnership, call 399-2670 or email info@winooskiwelcomecenter.com for more information.

Nov. 7 – Monthly meeting of Winooski Coalition, 6-7 pm at the O’Brien Community Center on Malletts Bay Avenue. Discuss current projects, including public health and civic engagement initiatives. Every meeting is free and open to the public.

Nov. 14 - Sit down with the community for a free evening of togetherness and holiday spirit at the Winooski School District Cafeteria on Normand Street. Dinner will be served from 5:30 to 7:00. As always, all are welcome to attend. Please be aware that, although the WCSPC’s Community Dinners normally take place on the third Wednesday of the month, November’s dinner will be a week early to avoid conflict with the Thanksgiving holiday.

Nov. 17 - 30th annual Winooski P.T.O. Craft Fair will be held at the Winooski Educational Center 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Click HERE for more information.

Nov. 18 – WWII history author Joseph Covais will discuss his book, “Battery! C. Lenton Sartain and the Airborne GIs of the 319th Glider Field Artillery”, noon to 1:30 pm at the Winooski Senior Center. Before losing his vison, Mr. Covais produced precise replica clothing for museums, historic sites, and the movie industry. Today he teaches psychology classes at CCV and works as a psycho-therapist for blind and visually impaired persons. He holds a masters degree in clinical psychology from St. Michaels College. “Battery!” is his first book, but he has authored numerous articles on clothing, photography, and military history.

St. Francis Xavier School celebrates 150th year

Saint Francis Xavier School’s 150th anniversary celebration culminated with a festive community-wide gathering under sunny skies on Sunday, September 23. Over 500 people enjoyed a barbecue and multiple activities throughout the weekend.

Sunday’s events began with a Mass at Saint Francis Xavier Church, celebrated by Monsignor Richard Lavalley, Monsignor Wendell Searles and Father Bernard Bourgeois, principal of Rice Memorial High School.  A number of Sisters of Providence, members of the religious order that founded the school, were in attendance as was Mona Faulkner, Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese.

“We made a special effort to include songs that would evoke different times in our school’s history,” said choir member Maureen Johnson. “A few parishioners told me they teared up hearing some of the traditional French hymns being sung today.”

The Mass was followed by a barbecue and activities at the school. Stacey Zierak, the parent in charge of the barbecue, was delighted with the turn out. “We went through 200 hot dogs, 250 hamburgers and 180 pieces of barbecued chicken, not to mention huge amounts of side dishes and desserts. Thank goodness so many of our amazing parents and friends volunteered to help!” In addition to the barbecue, the outdoor activities featured a bouncy castle, face painting, a dunking booth and traditional games of chance sponsored by parish organizations.

Inside the school, visitors enjoyed a “mini-museum” set up in the gym. Alumni gathered around a 150 year timeline featuring graduation pictures going back to the early 1900’s. Former students picked out their own classes and also pictures of relatives and friends from long ago. A mannequin wearing the traditional garb of the Sisters of Providence from the mid and early 1900’s welcomed visitors, including some sisters who had taught at Saint Francis. The retired sisters had a “meet and greet” with many former students throughout the afternoon. Claude Lapierre, a 1960 graduate, reminisced about his class of 49 students. “There were 42 desks in the class and Sister Aimee had a table on each side of her desk for 7 more kids. It’s hard to imagine that today.”

The anniversary celebration had commenced on Friday, September 21, when middle school students led a procession from the school to the nearby Saint Francis Xavier Cemetery to place a wreath at the grave of Father Jean Audet. Father Audet, the first priest of the parish, was responsible for constructing the original school and convent as well as the rectory and church. He began his ministry at Saint Francis Xavier as a newly ordained 26 year old and served his entire life there, still residing at the rectory at the time of his death at age 75.

Gabrielle Allbee, SFX student, prepares to cut the cake

On Saturday, friends and supporters of the school gathered at the Winooski Senior Center for a special Anniversary Bingo to benefit the school’s tuition assistance fund. The organizer of the event, Clement Potvin, noted that the school had relied on proceeds from a weekly bingo for many years, using the funds to pay off the mortgage on the school in the 1960’s. “Bingo at Saint Francis was part of many people’s Friday night tradition for years,” said Potvin, “They came because they had fun, but also because they knew it helped the school.”

Principal Jesse Gaudette was delighted with the weekend of events. “We are blessed with such a vibrant community. Over 100 individuals, including a dozen area high school students, volunteered to help, plus we had around two dozen business sponsors. It was wonderful to see hundreds of people enjoying themselves and reconnecting with our school.” Assistant Principal Eric Becker stood nearby wrapped in towels, smiling broadly while trying to warm up after being the star “dunkee” in the dunking booth. A long line of students had spent the afternoon waiting their turn to dunk Mr. Becker “I’m cold and I’m wet, but it was a great day. All I can say is our students sure have great aim.”

Downtown “Circulator” rotary is #1 crash site in Vermont;

The pros and cons of a plan to improve pedestrian safety at the Circulator Project – the eight-year-old downtown traffic rotary – were discussed at length by city residents and officials at the Oct. 15 City Council meeting. The Council postponed its decision until a future meeting.

The six recommendations to change signage, add crosswalks, and create a bike lane were prepared and presented by the city Traffic Advisory Board (TAB). Click here to see the entire plan.

As a way to keep traffic moving, “I think the traffic circle works great,” Mayor Michael O’Brien said. Between 30,000 and 40,000 cars travel the Circulator daily, he said. The Council is worried about vehicular safety, it noted in a memo to the TAB: “Since having the #1 crash location in the state is not good for any aspect of our community, we must understand the flow of traffic at the high crash locations and minimize the need to merge and the number of elements that distract drivers. We must understand what is causing the crashes as best we can, and work to resolve as many of those issues as possible.” The TAB responded that its goals is “solving as many safety issues as possible without creating new ones…..a single approach to address vehicular, pedestrian and bike safety issues is not going to be effective.”

Several residents, including one city councilor, expressed concern that the mere act of change will confuse pedestrians and drivers who, despite the Circulator’s challenges, have grown accustomed to it. “I have concern that changing things around will cause more problems. It’s almost like a gut thing,” Councilor Megan Moir said. A TAB spokesperson acknowledged her concerns but said, “We feel this is a good solution. When people build a circulator, it is generally to move traffic,” not to accommodate pedestrians. The TAB recommendations are meant to fix that oversight, he said.

The 1980’s proposal to build a pedestrian bridge over Main Street was revisited and rejected. Among other concerns, construction would cost millions of dollars. “Other much less expensive alternatives exist for providing safe pedestrian crossing facilities within the circulator,” the TAB said.

 “The location of the present crosswalk make the drivers take into consideration an awful lot of things,” Richard Smithers noted. He said he understands how accidents occur. “I think the recommendation is very good, and the board should look on it favorably.” The bypass under the Winooski - Burlington bridge, at the southern end of the Circulator, is useful for pedestrians, but should be better maintained during the winter, he said.

Eileen Andreoli said critical signage has been lacking since the Circulator opened. “It seems to have been set up for failure,” she said. At a meeting last year, people sought better traffic enforcement and lower speed limits. Had these suggestions been embraced, the Circulator might have lost the dubious distinction of being the number one scene of accidents, she said. Furthermore, the City’s downtown businesses are just now recovering from a period of slow economic activity, and any changes made should be made with them in mind.

 Removing the stoplights near McKee’s Pub will make the crossing more dangerous, Jodi Harrington said. “Every day people are pushing those strollers across the crosswalks,” she said. Ms. Harrington works at the nearby Winooski Welcome Center and art gallery.

“I applaud the 80-90 percent of [drivers] who stay within the speed limit,” but if there are 30,000 drivers per day, that still means that 3,000 drivers speed, Michael Mahoney said. “That’s the issue we have to deal with.”

“I want to start small,” said one resident. Since the Circulator was opened there have been less than 10 pedestrian accidents, she claimed. “I am really hesitant to say that just because [an accident] happened there, it is about the pedestrian crosswalk.” A police officer noted that some car-only accidents have happened because of the lack of pedestrian crossing lights; cars stop to allow pedestrians to cross, and are rear-ended, he said.

A TAB spokesperson said the board discussed “starting small,” but that it makes more fiscal sense to address the major problems together, rather than piecemeal.

After the discussion ended, the board deliberated before making its decision. “It seems we still have a lot of questions that I’m not comfortable with,” Sally Tipson said. “At this point it needs a little more time to chew on it, maybe to take a field trip and sit in the park.”