January 17, 2019

Schools stuck with modular classrooms

Buyers not materializing for trailers

By Greg Duggan
Observer staff

When voters from Franklin, Highgate and Swanton last week rejected funding to purchase modular classrooms for Missisquoi Valley Union High School, the Williston School District suffered a big setback in its efforts to remove the classrooms.

The temporary building permit for the classrooms, granted by Williston’s Development Review Board last year, required the trailers to be removed by Aug. 31. But with the latest setback, that scenario appears highly unlikely — unless the school district takes a major financial hit.

Williston installed the classrooms at the Allen Brook School in 2002 to accommodate a growing student population. Though the classrooms were meant to be temporary, the town’s Development Review Board in 2006 granted a second temporary building permit for the modular classrooms.

That permit carried a condition that school officials return to the Development Review Board in February 2008 with a master plan for the site, though that meeting failed to take place until September 2008. A protracted battle ensued for nearly a year, ending last August when the school district presented a master plan to remove the temporary classrooms by this August.

At the time, the district hoped to have a buyer for the classrooms. But the market for the modular classrooms is weaker than expected.

Bob Mason, chief operations officer for Chittenden South Supervisory Union, said he has had about a dozen inquiries about purchasing the trailers over the past year, but interest wanes once potential buyers learn the total cost of dismantling and transporting the classrooms.

Missisquoi Valley Union High School had expressed the most interest, though that possibility fell through when voters denied funding for the purchase.

At a School Board meeting on Monday night, Mason and District Principal Walter Nardelli provided the board with four options for the modular classrooms: deconstruct the units, salvage the components and restore the site; remove the units and store them in the area, with hopes of a future sale; pay to have the units dismantled and shipped to their Maine-based builder, Schiavi; or leave the classrooms in place until a buyer is found.

All the options have problems, primarily due to an estimated expense of $100,000 for restoration work on the site and another $40,000 for dismantling the classrooms.

To store the units, Mason said, the district would need to find a sand pit or gravel yard where the trailers could be placed. Any storage would require the expenses of protecting the classrooms against water and animal damage, which Mason estimated at $15,000 per year.

Mason said the school district does not have the funds to cover the expenses, and would need to ask voters to approve a loan to cover costs.

Board members directed Mason and Nardelli to continue exploring options for the trailers. They wanted to get Planning Director Ken Belliveau’s opinion on how the Development Review Board may respond to keeping the classrooms on site, as well as get more specific engineering estimates on the cost of site restoration once the classrooms are removed. The School District will also explore other outlets for selling the classrooms by posting ads on craigslist, in the Observer and through realtors.

“I think we have to push every avenue,” School Board member Laura Gigliotti said.

Nardelli told the board members to expect an update in approximately two weeks.

“It is what it is. It will be a shame if school starts and the trailers are still sitting there, and I have a feeling they’re going to be,” Gigliotti said.

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