School district faces trailer hitch

Board disapproves making temporary classrooms permanent

By Kim Howard
Observer correspondent

The Development Review Board expressed dissatisfaction Tuesday with Williston School District’s request to make permanent the trailers at Allen Brook School. The modular classrooms were installed three years ago as a temporary measure to ease overcrowding.

“This wasn’t really meant to be a long-term solution,” Board member Brian Jennings said of the project the board approved in July 2002. “We were under the impression that the School Board was going to be coming back to us in a couple of years with some sort of master plan for the site.”

Board members indicated a willingness to consider an application for a five-year permit, with one stipulation being that school officials return to the Development Review Board well before the expiration date – perhaps as early as three years from now – with a permanent site plan.

“If you think there’s always going to be a need for the additional space the modulars provide, why not come back to the plan of building a permanent structure on the school?” asked board member Kelly Barland.

Bob Mason, chief operations officer for Chittenden South Supervisory Union, which helps administer Williston and other area school districts, said the district would be “more than happy” to modify the application to request a five-year permit for the units instead of permanent approval.

Growing student enrollment in Williston led Allen Brook School in 2002 to install double-wide trailers for more classroom space. The units, which accommodate about 80 students, were intended as temporary until the Williston School District could assess options for permanent expansion.

Soon after construction of the temporary classrooms, however, student enrollment leveled off. After years of adding an average of three dozen students to its roster, the district saw a slight drop in enrollment over the last two years. This year, enrollment has dropped more than three dozen students, according to District Principal Walter Nardelli.

Mason told the board that while the trailers were meant to be temporary, “enrollment has changed such that it’s not prudent for the school to go forward with the long-term plan for Allen Brook to double in size.” That previously-considered plan was estimated to cost $6 million.

Since the end of September, the trailers at Allen Brook School have been in violation of a town zoning ordinance. At the time of the trailers’ construction, the Development Review Board granted the permit on condition the trailers be removed after three years and the site returned to its original state.

In June of this year, school officials requested a three-year extension of the permit, which the Development Review Board denied. The permitting process exists in part for public safety, board chair Kevin McDermott had indicated, so a new application was necessary. Safety concerns raised by board members included the location of the secondary bus loading loop, a gravel parking lot intended for deliveries which is being used for parking, and the proximity of storage sheds to the school.

School district officials failed to submit the new site plan application in time for the board to consider the issue prior to the expiration of the original permit on Sept. 27.

The application will next be considered at the Nov. 22 board meeting.