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Montpelier High School Expected To Open on Time

Tom Allen, the Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools custodial and maintenance supervisor, crouches by a pump used to drain the pool that filled the area that had been the infield for the high school’s softball field. Floodwaters neatly removed all of the infield, which had no vegetation to hold it in place, but merely flooded and soaked the outfield. Photo by Tom McKone.

Montpelier High School is among the Vermont schools most damaged by last week’s flood, and the cleanup will cost over $1 million, officials say. The school, however, is expected to be ready to open on time next month. Whether athletic fields will be ready is not yet known.

Last week’s floodwaters engulfed the school parking lot, track, baseball, ultimate and soccer fields, and destroyed the softball field — very precisely removing the infield, which had no vegetation to hold it in place and leaving the clay-bottomed basin to collect water. The flood filled the school basement to six feet with an estimated two million gallons of water, submerging the school’s boilers and electrical transformers and items stored there, including furniture and theater props.

Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools Superintendent Libby Bonesteel said Tuesday that based on what they know now, officials anticipate the building will be ready for students by the first day of school, which is Aug. 30, and the week before that for staff in-service days, which begin Aug. 23. Orientation for new teachers begins Aug. 21.

“The school district is going to be fine,” Bonesteel said. “We have excellent relations with our contractors. They’re going to make sure that it’s great for students.” 

It took two days and two pumps to remove two million gallons of floodwater from the basement of Montpelier High School, and then it took two more days for giant tubes of forced hot air, some of which are shown here, to dry it. Photo by Tom McKone.
As of midday Tuesday, electricity had been restored and telephone and internet were expected to be back up soon, which will allow the administrative staff to move back in. The school’s boilers were completely submerged and their status had not yet been determined. Summer camps, childcare, and the extended year services for students, which were moved to Main Street Middle School, will remain there through the summer.

Bonesteel credited the school’s insurer, Vermont School Boards Insurance Trust, and key district staff for getting the recovery off the ground quickly and efficiently. She said the insurers contacted the school before the rain had even stopped and knew that the basement was going to flood. They also made some initial contacts with contractors.

Calling Tom Allen, the district’s custodial and maintenance supervisor, and his crew “amazing,” she said the school had a plan in place from the very start. She also praised Andrew LaRosa, the district’s director of facilities, saying his background as an architect and knowledge of structural and mechanical systems, plus his connections with local contractors, have been essential to the district’s rapid response.

It took two days to pump the water out of the basement, and another two days — using giant tubes of forced hot air — to dry it.

Bonesteel said that restoring the building has been the first priority, and although steps have started to restore the grounds, as far as the timeline goes, “We haven’t had that conversation yet … It will be getting going by the end of this week.”

Allen said workers are aerating the fields to speed up the drying, but success depends on the rain stopping. If the ground is not adequately aerated and dried, he said, the roots of the grass can rot. The school has an aerator that puts thousands of small holes in the ground as it is driven across it.

Flood damage at Montpelier High School includes collapsed pavement at the edges of the parking lot. There are also sinkholes on some athletic fields. Photo by Tom McKone.
Science teacher Tom Sabo, who works with students on the school’s garden program, was at the school Monday to collect soil samples to send to the University of Vermont for analysis. Almost all of the current crop was flooded and cannot be used. The condition of the soil will determine whether students can replant vegetables or just a fall cover crop.

Bonesteel said the insurance company’s estimate is that the cleaning, drying, and repairs in the basement will cost about $1 million, almost all of which is covered by insurance. She said she “imagines” the damage to the grounds is also covered by insurance, although she again noted that the first step necessarily had to be to protect the building and make it safe, and they will deal with the grounds next.

Ted Fisher, a spokesperson for the Agency of Education, said that as of Saturday, 18 Vermont schools had self-reported flood damage, five of them reporting major damage and 13 reporting minor damage. Based on those reports, Montpelier High School appears to have suffered either the most damage or the second most. Fisher said that there may still be schools with damage that have not yet responded to the agency’s damage survey.

Bonesteel wanted to make sure that any Montpelier or Roxbury families who have been displaced because of flooding know that they are still considered district residents, even if they had to move out of Montpelier or Roxbury, so they can continue attending district schools.

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