October 23, 2014

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AOT official critical of Allen Brook bus loop

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

An unconventional school bus driveway that causes young students at Allen Brook School to walk between buses has raised some eyebrows with state officials.

The driveway, which acts as a makeshift bus loop cut-through, and the contents of a maintenance garage and storage sheds were among the safety concerns raised by the Development Review Board last week during a hearing regarding the temporary classrooms at Allen Brook School.

None of these items were previously outlined in site plans brought before the board, so none had officially been approved. School officials last week went before the Development Review Board to request a new permit for temporary trailers installed three years ago in response to overcrowding.

The primary safety concern of the board was that of an unpermitted “secondary” bus loop, a gravel drive cut across the main bus loop, which allows more flexibility for bus parking given the varied arrival times of afternoon pick-ups. One afternoon last week, two buses were parked along this cut-through.

Stephen Sherrill, traffic investigations supervisor with the Vermont Agency of Transportation, said that without seeing the site it’s hard to pass judgment on it. Nevertheless, “school bus loading and unloading should be done in a manner that does not expect the children to be walking between buses,” he said.

“I wouldn’t go so far to say that it’s illegal, but it’s certainly ill advised,” said Sherrill, noting that specific regulations are laid out in the Department of Motor Vehicles School Bus Driver Manual. “There are so many things that can happen to small children in front of or behind a large bus. It is just not a safe practice at all.”

  • Requests for comment by an official at the Chittenden South Supervisory Union were not immediately answered.

Allen Brook School Principal John Terko said last Wednesday afternoon that the school employs a number of strategies to ensure kids are safe in the current bus loading process. No vehicle other than a school bus is allowed into the bus loop. Generally two adults and Terko stand outside monitoring the bus-loading process. No bus is allowed to move until bus drivers are radioed by one of the adults on duty that the roadway is clear.

Without the gravel cut-through, or secondary loop, at least four buses would have to line up single file. The doors for at least two of those buses would face away from where staff members stand, making it impossible for teachers to monitor kids as they get on those buses.

“It’s easier to see the kids when the buses are lined up where they are,” Terko said.

Board members also questioned the safety of storing gasoline in the maintenance garage, but a state official dismissed those fears.

The garage was on site prior to the permitting of the trailers, but had not been on the original site plan. The garage, while fifty feet away from the main school building, sits immediately adjacent to the school’s playground.

Terko said the garage holds maintenance tools – tractors, lawn mowers, winter salt, and miscellaneous tools – as well as two 5-gallon containers of diesel and one 5-gallon container of gasoline.

Robert Patterson, regional manager for the Division of Fire Safety for the Vermont Department of Public Safety, said that s mall quantities of fuel stored in metal containers pose no significant threat when in a secured, locked building.

“There is no loss history that I’m aware of that people have been in jeopardy if they’re playing outside next to a building with gas in it,” Patterson said by phone last week in response to a description of the building’s proximity to the playground. “If you have a fire that ensues in that building…it’s just not going to be out of control that quickly to jeopardize the children.”

The smaller storage sheds contain non-hazardous materials, according to Terko. The shed on the eastern side of the school contains school supplies, fans, crates and games. Athletic equipment, tricycles and wagons fill the shed on the west side of the school.

Trailers’ lifespan also a concern

Board member Cathy O’Brien asked at last week’s meeting about the manufacturer’s estimate for the temporary trailers’ lifespan. Several board members noted that modular units recently replaced at Champlain Valley Union High School were “dismal.”

Bob Mason, chief operations officer for Chittenden South Supervisory Union, which helps administer Williston and other area school districts, acknowledged that as trailers are used for longer periods of time, “the less viable they are for a long-term solution.” He noted that CVU’s units were constructed in the mid-1960s and that facilities at the high school level tend to have greater wear than elementary school facilities.

Bob Warrington, general manager at Schiavi Leasing Corp., which supplied the trailers, said they should have a lifespan of thirty to fifty years, provided there is not deferred maintenance.

“As long as they’re maintained, the roof is kept up and maintained well, and the systems are maintained, the materials and the components and the systems in those buildings should … last a long time,” said Warrington.

Mason said the School Board over the long-term wants to do “something permanent” at the site that is both taxpayer- and enrollment-friendly. The cost of a permanent structure would be significant, and enrollment remains uncertain. After years of adding an average of three dozen students to its roster, the district has seen a decline in enrollment for the past three years. Enrollment this year has dropped nearly three dozen students.

The application for a second temporary permit for the Allen Brook School trailers will next be considered at the Nov. 22 Development Review Board meeting.

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