(Host) An environmental group has given up its fight against a Bennington school project. But the Conservation Law Foundation says it will continue to oppose public projects that it says contribute to sprawl around the state.
VPR’s John Dillon reports:
(Dillon) The Mount Anthony Union Middle School is planned for a hayfield abut a mile outside Bennington. The $20 million union school will replace a dilapidated building downtown. The Conservation Law Foundation objects to public money being used for projects that it says will foster suburban sprawl. The group had challenged the project during Act 250 land use hearings. The project got its permit and CLF had until this week to appeal.
The group decided to withdraw. And Mount Anthony Union School Board Chairman Rick Pembroke is very pleased:
(Pembroke) “We’re all thrilled. We’re happy we can move this project forward. It’s going to be a great asset for the community.”
(Dillon) The union school district serves five towns. And Pembroke says locating the school outside of Bennington actually puts it closer to some of the other communities. He says the suburban location will also cost much less money than building downtown.
Permbroke notes that many in Bennington objected to the Conservation Law Foundation’s role in the case. The group has offices in Montpelier and is headquartered in Boston. Pembroke says CLF was seen as an outside special interest group that was interfering with a local issue.
Still, the school board chairman says, CLF has a point when it argues that public projects should be built in downtown growth centers. The problem, he says, it that the downtown location would have cost twice as much.
(Pembroke) “Their argument of placing these in a growth center and also of providing more money from the state is not necessarily a bad one. The big question is where’s the state going to come up with the money.”
(Dillon) Mark Sinclair, CLF’s Vermont director, says local support for the school was so great that there was no way that the Environmental Board would reject the permit. He says the group has decided to step back and work to convince the state that it shouldn’t fund school construction projects that contribute to sprawl.
(Sinclair) “The issue got lost in a fight over the needs of school children in Bennington. The issue become so emotional and so polarized that we were not getting a deliberate and careful public discussion about where we should be locating our schools to promote the best land use patterns.”
(Dillon) The Mount Anthony school district wants to break ground on the project this fall, and open the school in September 2004.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.