Board refuses to renew permit for temporary classrooms

Existing permit mandates removal of structures in Sept.

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The Development Review Board last week declined to renew the permit for temporary classrooms at Allen Brook School, raising doubts about the future use of facilities that relieve crowding in Williston schools.

A school official made a written request earlier this month asking that the three-year permit, which was granted in 2002, be extended for three more years. The permit expires Sept. 27, said Williston zoning administrator D.K. Johnston.

Kevin McDermott, chairman of the Development Review Board, said he and other board members at their June 21 session briefly discussed the request and decided not to act on it because it would circumvent the established permitting process. The board instead wants a new site plan application.

“They are going to be treated like any other applicant,” McDermott said. “For the safety of the public, the kids and everyone concerned, I think this needs to be reviewed like we do with anyone else.”

The structures, which are doublewide trailers adapted to school use, house 72-80 students in four classrooms, according to Allen Brook Principal John Terko. They were installed to ease crowding amid rising enrollment in the district’s two schools.

McDermott said the central issue is that the board clearly stated three years ago that the permit would expire. One of the 21 conditions of the original permit required the removal of the temporary classrooms after three years.

“This approval for the temporary structures shall expire three years from the time of occupancy,” the permit states. “The temporary structures (except the bus loop) shall be removed and the area returned to its original state.”

Terko said Tuesday he had not been informed of the board’s decision and had not yet considered what would happen if a new permit is not granted.

“Whew boy. I don’t know how to answer that,” Terko said. “I guess I didn’t anticipate this. It’s something to think about.”
Bob Mason, chief operations manager for Chittenden South Supervisory Union, which helps administer Williston schools and other area districts, requested the permit extension. His written request stated that he had been previously told by a former Williston planning staff member that “the renewal would be a relatively simple matter and that I should identify the need for the renewal about this time to your office.”

“That was not the case,” Mason said on Tuesday. “So now we will provide what they need and get on with it.”

He said in hindsight it would have been better to start the application process earlier, but insisted he was not surprised by the board’s decision.

“The Development Review Board, like other zoning and planning boards, takes its work seriously,” Mason said. “They want to make sure all the ‘I’s are dotted and the ‘T’s are crossed.”

McDermott said the board generally agreed that the ironclad permit expiration, combined with changes made to the originally approved site plan, meant the school district needed to file a new application.

Terko said that “to the best of my knowledge” there had been just one change to the temporary classrooms: a single exterior light bulb upgraded to a higher-wattage model to better illuminate a walkway.

McDermott, however, suggested that the school district had deviated from the approved plans.

Since the temporary classrooms were added, the Williston School District has seen an unanticipated decline in enrollment growth. For many years, the district added an average of 37 students each year. But in 2003-04 school year, enrollment fell by two students. A tally this October showed enrollment down five students from the previous year.

The uncertain enrollment situation has led the School Board to delay plans to expand Allen Brook with a permanent addition and instead try to renew the temporary classrooms’ permit.

McDermott declined to say if he would vote against a new permit for the temporary classrooms knowing that it would mean students would be negatively affected. He did note that the Development Review Board is a quasi-judicial body that makes rulings — not political decisions — based on town ordinances.

Mason said he does not know what will be required to obtain a new permit, so he was not sure if there is enough time to get through the process before the existing approval expires.

“I am going to work my tail off to make sure things get done,” he said.