At a regular city council meeting on Monday night, councilors discussed tentative progress made with the South Burlington School District on a stormwater management resolution for 180 Market Street.
“I certainly get the sense from Elizabeth [Fitzgerald, school board chair] that they’re ready to work with us on the project,” council chair Helen Riehle told her colleagues.
Councilors Riehle, Dave Kaufman and Meaghan Emery attended a special meeting with school board members on May 28 during which school officials voted to tentatively approve the conceptual design that city and school-employed engineers outlined on May 22.
The conceptual design calls for stormwater management wholly within impervious areas of the Rick Marcotte Central School property without the use of additional school property outside the impact area of city hall construction and school parking lot reconfiguration.
School board members elected to wait for final designs before signing all necessary documents, and provided an addendum with requests they’d like to negotiate with the city, Riehle said.
At the councilors’ meeting Monday, Kaufman inquired whether the school board’s May 28 motion meant they’d sign the necessary documents to proceed even if their amendments were not fully negotiated. Riehle replied that was how she interpreted their motion, and that she believed the motive behind the amendments was to put the district’s concerns in writing to be discussed.
“We need to negotiate some of [the amendments] that are changes to the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding),” Riehle told The Other Paper. “Some we probably can do and others we’ll have to negotiate.”
City Manager Kevin Dorn said he believes a solution can be reached without creating a new Memorandum of Understanding, but instead, a new agreement between the two parties.
“The school board has said multiple times, ‘The MOU is the MOU and we have to stick to the MOU,’” Dorn said. “Well, let’s stick to the MOU and have some other side agreements.”
Councilor Thomas Chittenden requested a breakdown of the costs and city’s thoughts on the amendments proposed by the school district. He wanted to see to see which expenses were budgeted for and which requests would require additional funding.
According to Riehle, the conceptual design for stormwater management draws on technology that is new to Vermont but has proven successful in areas with similar high water challenges, like the Chesapeake Bay area.
Councilor Tim Barritt said, from his research, the system requires a large area to be excavated and hemispherical piping to be laid with the open-side down in rows that become akin to a leach field. These, he said, are fed by water collected by a cistern. The structure is covered up with recurring levels of gravel and dirt.
“You’re standing on dirt at the top and then you pave over it and you wouldn’t even know that there’s anything underneath it,” Barritt said.
Chittenden asked if there were any cavernous areas or vaults, to which Barritt replied there were not. Chittenden wanted to quell safety concerns from residents who envisioned a cavernous stormwater system like that in the horror movie “It.” According to Barritt, there would be a grade-level manhole cover serving as an entrance to an underground bunker that would accept water from storm drains. That structure would resemble any other manhole cover, he said. The city hall parking lot has similar stormwater structures which are “covered, paved, safe,” Dorn added.
Riehle said she believed stormwater management designs and safety records could be shared with the public once they were finalized. She hoped these would further ease any public concerns.
Groundbreaking for the stormwater management system was originally slated for this summer, coinciding with school vacation to minimize the impact on the Central School community. However, setbacks from the stormwater dispute mean that construction will not occur on the original timeline, Dorn said. Once the necessary documents are signed by the school district and the city, there will be an approximate 90-day waiting period for permits with an additional 30-day appeal period – pushing the project into the fall.
“We’ll work through,” Dorn said. “But it’s not optimal.”
For now, the city and district are awaiting final designs to give their official approval. Negotiations concerning the addendum will have to be discussed at a future date.
“It’s going to be a really wonderful city center, far too long in the making,” Kaufman said. “You can’t expect something this massive to be done without a couple of bumps.”