Fate of temporary classrooms threatens Frameworks

March 5, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

For months, the Williston Conceptual Frameworks Committee has toiled to create recommendations for school configurations, working under the assumption that available classroom space would not change. But school officials admit that effort could be in jeopardy if Allen Brook School loses classrooms currently located in trailers attached to the school.

The future of the Allen Brook trailers has been a question mark for years, but the Development Review Board, which issues or denies permits for the temporary classrooms, now seems to be taking a firm stance with theschool district.

Late last month, the board refused to approve a new recreation park at Allen Brook, saying it wanted to see a final master plan for the temporary classrooms before permitting other projects at the school.

District Principal Walter Nardelli and School Board Chairwoman Darlene Worth said any configuration recommendations made by the Frameworks Committee might not work if there is no viable alternative to replacing the trailers. And the Frameworks Committee has not discussed in any depth the possibility of losing that classroom space.

“We haven’t come up with any what ifs,” committee member Wendy Goodrich said.

Any new configurations would take effect for the 2010-2011 school year; the permit for the trailers expires in February 2010.

Asked if the committee’s work would be moot if the trailers were removed, Worth replied, “Absolutely.”

“But the town would be in an uproar,” she added. “That committee has worked hard for over a year and then to have this happen?”

Nardelli agreed the Frameworks Committee configuration recommendations could become irrelevant, depending on what’s decided.

“I don’t see how the idea of putting (grades one through four) under one roof would work (if the trailers weren’t available),” Nardelli said, referencing a building configuration the committee has explored.

The possibility has left Nikki Layman, a parent who has attended many of the committee’s meetings, feeling uneasy about what might happen.

“It’s a frustrating scenario,” Layman said. “It makes me want to say to everyone, ‘The issue needs to be addressed, so stop avoiding it and let’s take care of it so we can move on.’”

Nardelli said the school is developing a plan based on discussions with the Development Review Board. He said two options are being pursued: Refurbishing the rooms as a permanent addition to Allen Brook, or building a separate addition onto the school.

“We’re looking to see what’s the most cost effective measure,” Nardelli said.

Worth, who said she’s received more comments from residents concerned about the classrooms’ future than about next year’s budget, wants to keep a third, cheaper option on the table: Renewing the temporary classroom permit for another four years. She reiterated her views to voters at Town Meeting on Monday night.

But Development Review Board Chairman Kevin McDermott said it was a mistake on the board’s part to ever allow temporary structures at the school.

“You’d have a hard time looking anywhere in the country to find a place that has approved a temporary building as long as we have,” McDermott said.

McDermott has said the school needs to present one master plan — not a list of options. And he’s told school officials the board won’t consider another four-year temporary permit. He said he would welcome school officials back sooner than this summer, which was when Worth said they would return.

“It is their responsibility to come up with an answer for the school to be in compliance,” McDermott said. “They’re trying to put that responsibility on the board.”

On Monday, the Frameworks Committee will hold its second community forum at Williston Central School to gather public input on several configuration options — none of which account for the potential loss of the trailers.

Frameworks Committee Facilitator Mary Jane Shelley said the trailer issue has been discussed in meetings, but the group decided to continue working under the assumption that space would be available for students, regardless of what happens to the trailers.

“We’ve got to go with what is right now, and not what might be,” Shelley said.

Goodrich, who is also a St. George School Board director, agreed with Shelley about working with what is available. She noted the importance of the committee’s philosophical discussions about the future of the school system and how to better serve students — no matter the fate of the trailers.

“Those discussions will still be valuable,” Goodrich said.

Upcoming community forum

The Williston Conceptual Frameworks Committee will hold its community forum on Monday, March 9 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Williston Central School. The committee has 11 options for building and grade grouping configurations and is bringing them to the forum for public input. A teachers forum is also taking place on Monday, from 3 p.m. until 5 p.m. Any configuration changes will take place in the 2010-2011 school year.