ST. ALBANS CITY — In 2011, students from St. Albans City School’s Team U.S.A. approached the St. Albans City Council with an analysis of how the city could save money on its streetlights.
Now the city, with funding from Efficiency Vermont, has been replacing the roughly 485 lights located outside of downtown with LED lights for a projected savings of $20,000 per year, according to Mayor Liz Gamache.
On Thursday, Gamache visited city school to update the current students of Team U.S.A., a seventh and eighth grade learning community, on the project. She also answered questions and asked them what types of development they would like to see in the city.
Gamache spoke about how one of the tasks of the mayor is to listen to the concerns of city residents. She invited students to guess which resident has complained to her more than any other.
They guessed their teacher, former mayor Peter DesLauriers.
The answer was Gamache’s husband who complained the bright streetlight outside their homemade sleep difficult.
One of the advantages of shifting to LED lights is that they reduce light pollution, explained Gamache, and the new lights have meant less light coming into their home at night. However, she was very clear her husband “didn’t get any special treatment from the mayor.”
The more efficient lights are good for the environment, she told students, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“What I think is cool about it is it started with Team U.S.A.,” Gamache told the students.
Gamache, who took over as the executive director of Efficiency Vermont in January, said a $25,000 grant from Efficiency Vermont to the city to help pay for the cost of replacing the lights was received before she became executive director.
The grant, which has been given to municipalities throughout the state, helps communities cover the cost of replacing lights that still have some existing life, she explained.
The actual work of replacing the lights is being done by Green Mountain Power, which is having a line crew install the lights as it has time. All of the lights will be completed by the end of the year, explained Chip Sawyer, the city’s director of planning and development. However, work has been proceeding quite quickly.
Gamache asked the students what motivates them to get involved in the community.
Makayla Brooks replied, “People saying we’re doing a good job and getting recognition around the city.”
Katherine Smith spoke of “classmates motivating us to be better people.”
Given the chance to ask their own questions, Halayna Smith asked about sidewalks.
Gamache spoke of the analysis done by Cross Consulting Engineers, which found it would take $4 million to repair the sidewalks in poorest condition and another $4 million to repair those in fair condition.
In the spring the city will hold public meetings in neighborhoods around the city to get information on priorities and how much residents are willing to spend to improve the sidewalks, explained Gamache.
The council will then bring a plan before voters for a multi-year sidewalk replacement project. “We hope people will rally behind it,” she said.
If students were interested in doing work similar to the lighting project Gamache suggested they look at the impact of sidewalks on property values and economic development.
Another student asked about the water main breaks. “The perfect solution would be to get rid of the old pipes and replace them with new ones,” said Gamache. “The cost would be exorbitant.”
In the short term, the city plans to install more valves, which will make it easier to turn water off and speed repairs, while also looking for opportunities to replace pipes, explained Gamache. For example, the Agency of Transportation has informed the city it will repave Fairfield Street and the city is hoping to replace the pipes along with that project.
When students asked about economic development, Gamache asked them in turn what types of businesses they would like to see in the city.
Brianna Bean said the city needs to have more opportunities for youth activities. “There’s not a lot to do,” she said. More community-wide activities would also benefit families, Bean suggested.
Other students seconded that opinion, speaking of the need for a Pizza Putt-type of business. “That’s a place that’s really family friendly,” said Kiara Anderson.
An arcade also would give youth a place to go, rather than simply staying home and playing on their phones, she noted, suggesting parents would be happy to see their kids socialize more. “Having an arcade… I think that will get kids out more,” said Anderson.
Students also spoke of the desire for a skate park.