COMMENTARY: About the water tower project
To members of the Bennington community:
As many of you may know, there is a vote on the water tower project on Tuesday, March 4th. Before turning to the facts of this project, as it relates to Southern Vermont College (SVC), I want to urge you to vote. it is a critical right for which many men and women have sacrificed their lives.
As voters reflect upon the water tower project, it is important to consider the facts. Reasonable people can differ on the benefits of this project but these differences should be based on reliable information.
Here are four of the key reasons we would ask you to consider in support of voting yes on Article 2 related to the water tower project bond issue:
First: There are areas in the town of Bennington where homes do not have adequate water pressure. Although this issue has existed for decades (creating inconvenience among other problems), resolution of this issue has been elusive. The state of Vermont is requiring the Town to resolve this issue by 2018. Helpful to the Town of Bennington is the fact that the college has a priority on the State of Vermont's funding list to address its own water issues (more on that momentarily). The college is willing to partner with the town, which will allow the town to "piggyback" on the College's priority, get financing for its project at a 3 percent interest rate (truly reasonable in today's market), repayable over 20 years, and find an entity (SVC) paying a portion of the project costs. And, payments do not start immediately either.
Rather than waiting and watching costs rise, the impacted citizens and the local hospital can be helped because the water tower project can be accomplished now at a reasonable price.
Second: Southern Vermont College owns and maintains water wells on its own property and does not presently tap into the town's water supply. The state has required the college to address its own water issues. This means that the college needs to install continuous chlorination systems for all of its wells rather than fixing the water quality issues as they arise at a given on campus well. The college has already installed one such system in its new residential hall. The college has been prepared to address these issues on its own, installing the needed systems at a substantial cost approximately $450,000 (about the same amount it will pay the town under the bond issue).
Let's be clear: the town is not subsidizing the colleges infrastructure. The college will borrow the needed monies -- regardless of the outcome of the March 4th vote. But, without partnering, the town would lose many benefits, as described below.
Third: To accomplish this project, the college has agreed that it will provide the town with two permanent easements on land owned by the college on which the project's water pump building and a water tower will be constructed. These easements are being provided by the college at no cost to the town and with no required ongoing annual payments from the town to the college. The value of these easements approximates $300,000.
Fourth: Despite rumors to the contrary, the College has no intention (and has never had an intention) of adding a fourth story to its existing dorms. We are looking at housing options on and off campus, including the possibility of renovating a downtown building on Main Street as a way of helping invigorate the downtown and bring more students to the stores and restaurants that exist and might be launched.
The college's presence in Bennington has many benefits. The college -- through its employees and its current and prospective students and their families -- is a significant contributor to the local economy, most recently calculated at in excess of $24 million annually. The college is educating many individuals who will enter the workforce and serve our state ably. Many of the local healthcare workers, law enforcement personnel (including in leadership positions), business men and women, and psychologists are graduates of SVC. Finally, we welcome the community to our lectures and athletic events and to dinners on campus.
We hope you will reflect on the benefits of this bond issue. Enabling the college to tap into the town's water supply, rather than installing its own systems, is wise for several reasons: (1) partnering allows the town to use the co||ege's funding priority and to share costs (which lowers the cost to the town overall); (2) it helps the town's citizens improve their water pressure; (3) it moves the college from its own wells to the town's water system, enabling the town to collect added revenue annually; and (4) the college benefits from the high quality water the town provides and maintains.
Thank you for your continued support of Southern Vermont College, and, most importantly, we hope you will vote on Tuesday, March 4th.
Karen Gross is the president of Southern Vermont College.
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