Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Trust fund grows, bringing new equipment to town schools

By: Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
March 27, 2007

VERNON - Computer drafting systems, digital cameras, laptops, and a laser printer are only a few of the high tech tools that will find their way into classrooms this fall, purchased with an annual grant from the Sykes Trust Fund.

The George Sykes Trust, established in 1903 to improve and enhance the manual training skills of Vernon children, approves annual requests from various school technology departments. This year's contribution amounts to $61,485.12, school officials say.

According to Robert DuBeau, lawyer for and member of the Sykes Foundation Board of Trustees, the fund has grown over the years due to investments, from an initial $100,000 to more than $4 million.

"So we're here in perpetuity," DeBeau told school board members when announcing the grant at a recent Board of Education meeting.

According to Deborah Murasso, assistant superintendent of schools, the Sykes Foundation last year supported the expansion of the computer repair and certification program, the introduction of a computer aided drafting and design program, and replacement of an entire computer lab.

This year, Rockville High School staff requested more computers to support the CADD program, updates for the business computer lab, equipment replacement, and new laptop computers to the agricultural programs, and computers, a printer, television, and digital video recorder for the family and consumer science department.

Without the annual contribution, the school's vocational departments would have to rely on taxpayers to fund the programs and equipment, school officials say. In light of Vernon's budget woes, where freshman sports and necessary building repairs fall victim to cuts, it's likely much of these programs and tools would be discontinued, they add.

George Sykes, a former mill owner, was an influential man in Rockville during the Industrial Revolution, who wanted to ensure there were men well equipped to work in the area's textile and industrial plants, Murasso said. He created the trust fund and built the Sykes Manual Training School on Park Street in 1924 for the instruction of boys ages 10 to 21 in such skills as drafting, carpentry, plumbing, and industrial arts.

When the mills went into decline, the school became impractical and was abandoned. It remained vacant for a number of years as town officials debated its potential use, believing it could house a middle school, town offices, or a teen center.

In 1992 the state scooped up the Georgian-style building and renovated it to become the criminal courthouse serving Tolland County, which it remains to this day.

Meanwhile, the trust fund itself continued growing, but state statutes regarding gender bias put the original agreement in violation, Murasso said. A codicil was added to update the trust fund provisions and include such technological areas as automotive work, computer repair, electrical, and graphic arts.

The 1990 declaratory judgment also widened its support of vocational education for all Vernon children ages 10 to 21.

Ever since, the trust has granted roughly $60,000 annually to fund equipment requests from the schools.

"Without it, we certainly wouldn't have these enhancements for the programs," Murasso said.

For Thomas Mason of Vernon, one of the last remaining Sykes relatives, even with its changes the trust is truly a legacy from "Uncle George."

"It's passing on through the generations his generosity," Mason said.

©Journal Inquirer 2007