Review board not satisfied with temporary classrooms1/29/09

Jan. 29, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The conundrum over what to do with Allen Brook School’s temporary classrooms became no clearer this week during Tuesday night’s Development Review Board meeting. Members of the Williston School Board and administration sat before the board to present two options for more permanent classrooms.

One option is to put a new façade on the modular classrooms to match the rest of the school. Another option is to build an already designed wing onto the building — at a cost of more than $5 million.

The Development Review Board listened carefully to the presentations but, on the whole, said it was hoping for more details.

“I don’t think you gave us two good options,” review board chairman Kevin McDermott said.

“You have to do a lot of selling,” added review board member Brian Jennings. “A temporary solution has gone on long enough.”

The review board has asked the school administration for a master plan on what to do with the Allen Brook temporary classrooms. The permit for the classrooms, which was originally approved in 2002 and then again in 2006, expires in February 2010. The School Board was supposed to present a master plan in February 2008, but was late in getting it going. Now, time is of the essence in getting a plan worked out and approved, McDermott said.

Representing the school district was School Board Chairwoman Darlene Worth, Vice Chairwoman Holly Rouelle, District Principal Walter Nardelli and Chittenden South Supervisory Union Superintendent Elaine Pinckney.

A new wing, which was designed for construction 12 years ago, was deemed impractical because the school would essentially be overbuilding with its current enrollment, McDermott said. Also, the large price tag would have to be brought before voters as a bond, which does not seem practical given the economic outlook. But board members agreed their opinions could change if the project were to be funded by a potential federal stimulus package.

Pinckney said she has put the project on a list of potential “shovel ready” construction projects that could begin almost immediately if President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package is passed in the coming weeks. The president’s $850 billion plan to jumpstart the economy is to fund infrastructure works, including road and bridge improvements and construction projects. School construction could be part of that list.

Pinckney said she wasn’t sure if the Allen Brook project would be near the top of a local list.

“It could drastically change things,” Pinckney said.

The Development Review Board seemed enthused by the idea of a stimulus project in Williston, although they weren’t convinced it was likely. Pinckney said she would know more in a few months. If it became a reality, the School Board would return for building permits.

“That’s the end all solution right there,” Development Review Board member Scott Rieley said. “If that came up, that’s something we would fast track.”

Much of the meeting focused on how to make the temporary classrooms a permanent structure. Even with plans to put new siding on the rooms to match the school, review board members weren’t convinced by the option.

“I still see it as temporary, and I don’t see it being a long-term solution,” board member Richard Asch said.

Review board members expressed doubt that the interior of the temporary classrooms would last as long as the school itself.

The slow rate of declining enrollment was also discussed with the option. Nardelli said the temporary classrooms would definitely be needed for at least the next 10 to 12 years. After that, the rooms could be used as offices or for other educational purposes.

McDermott had a lot of questions school officials couldn’t answer, including how long the modular classrooms last, exactly what kind of siding would be put on rooms, how the rooms would be better attached to the ground, how to build a better and more appealing entryway for the school near the rooms, and how landscaping issues would be dealt with.

McDermott also wondered why an engineer or architect wasn’t at the meeting.

“Typically, someone brings an engineer with them on a project of this scale,” he said.

Worth said the initial quote for the re-siding came in at $100,000, although all at the meeting agreed that was a very low figure.

“For me to support this option, it would take a lot of convincing,” Jennings said.

Pinckney said she was pleased to hear some reasonable requests in regards to the re-siding of the temporary classrooms and planned to bring it all back to the supervisory union’s architect. McDermott said he wanted to see the School Board and administration return in the summer with a solid plan.