South Burlington

Members of the South Burlington School Board once again found themselves out of the loop at a Steering Committee meeting. At the May 8 meeting, the board learned about a possible stormwater solution discussed by five engineers on May 3 and recounted by public works director Justin Rabidoux at the city council’s regular meeting on May 6. The school board and councilors determined both better communication and another steering committee meeting would be in order to get things back on track. 

At the May 6 regular city council meeting, Rabidoux reported that one of the city’s stormwater utility employees, two of community center’s (180 Market Street) civil engineers and two engineers hired by the school district met the previous Friday and discussed a stormwater solution that would work well for both parties. 

The proposed solution calls for a joint storage and remediation system to address both current and future stormwater requirements, said council chair Helen Riehle, citing information from Rabidoux. The system could be located under the grass area to the east and or south of the Rick Marcotte Central Elementary School parking lot.

“We all believe [there’s] a solution that exists to solve today’s and tomorrow’s problems for both bodies,” Rabidoux said at the council meeting. He added the school’s engineers agreed it was sensible to address both the current and future stormwater needs at the school, but that they would need to apprise school administrators of their findings. 

But according to school board chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald, the district was aware of that Friday meeting, but had not been made privy to details of the discussion and attended the May 8 Steering Committee meeting with the council without any details.

“Our engineer was not authorized to negotiate on behalf of the school district for any particular solution,” she said. “If anyone from the city is representing that all five engineers agreed to a solution that is not consistent.”

Councilor Tim Barritt said Rabidoux’s account of the meeting was that it was a “back-of-the-envelope-type” solution, and that it was apparent communication that needed to happen between engineers, the city and the school was not happening. 

“I’m expressing frustration because we’re here at the same exact point without any kind of solution to talk about collectively because the people responsible for it aren’t even here,” Barritt said. 

According to Fitzgerald, the district authorized its engineers from Stone Environmental to perform three functions, including finding alternative stormwater solutions that would minimize impact on school property, understanding the obligations under permitting during the reconfiguration of parking lots and determining other stormwater solutions that had not previously been presented. 

The district also asked its engineers for additional information on the drainage pipe shut-off that school board members said they were first made aware of at the last steering committee meeting, as well as information on the 25-year hydraulic standard. 

Additionally, school board clerk Bridget Burkhardt said one of the district’s priorities was to be considered in the assessment. That’s why, she said, they hired an engineer with a separate scope of work to consider the district’s point of view. 

“What’s going to be least disruptive to school land is going to be a very important consideration,” Burkhardt said. “It may not be the cheapest solution, it may not be the one that five engineers in a room decide is the best thing to do.”

Riehle said she believed the school’s priorities were weighed in the conversation between the five engineers 

Later in the Steering Committee Meeting, councilor David Kaufman said it was his understanding the solution discussed by the engineers would actually enhance the playing fields at Rick Marcotte by improving drainage and thus extending the usable season. But, he said, the information presented by Rabidoux to the council was not “fait accompli.”

“Hearing third-hand is not really moving the discussion forward,” Burkhardt said. 

Riehle asked if the district had a timeline to get information from its engineers that could lead to a conceptual agreement. “Time is ticking,” she said. “We have a (memorandum of understanding) that we’re trying to work off of.” 

According to Fitzgerald, board members received a preliminary report, which they planned to discuss at their May 15 meeting. But, she said, they would have to consider if the solution would require another easement for the city – if school land was involved – as well as potential disruption to the parking lot. 

 “We are committed to collaborate,” she said. “But as soon as we start talking easement, that is, on top of the 0.7 acre, I think that’s where the board really needs to do its due diligence and really understand what has to go to voters and what the implications are to the asset owned by the school.”

Councilor Thomas Chittenden suggested that if an additional easement were to be required and the city had to go back to voters, it might be worthwhile to look into other possible configurations to fit the lot and all constraints. 

Councilor Meaghan Emery said if the current project did not go through it was likely “sunk.” Kaufman added that the longer the project was stalled, the more it could end up costing, at which point they’d have to go back to voters and might “sink the whole ship.”

“We came with misinformation and, apparently, this is what happens,” Riehle said. “I’d like to take you [the school board] at your word that you’re going to do your due diligence, you’re going to work as quickly as you can to come to some decision about what might work and what you would propose.”

She asked if, to that end, it might be helpful for a city representative to attend the school board’s May 15 meeting. Fitzgerald replied she would have to take that suggestion under advisement. However, she added, the city had an opportunity on Monday to involve a school representative in its stormwater conversation, but that did not happen. Riehle concluded that both boards should talk to their senior management so that a similar mistake would not be repeated on either body’s account. 

The boards discussed having city manager Kevin Dorn and superintendent David Young arrange another meeting date for the steering committee. 

“We consider ourselves stewards of the school’s assets and we’re going to do our homework,” Fitzgerald said.

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