The Montpelier Roxbury Public School (MRPS) board, at its Sept. 5 meeting, approved a Request for Proposal (RFP) for a consultant to examine the school district’s facilities in light of the recent flood and community efforts to mitigate future flood risk.
During the July 10–11 flood, Montpelier High School’s basement took in nearly six feet of water; that equated to approximately two million gallons. The surrounding parking lot and athletic fields were completely submerged and also had significant damage.
The RFP is not limited to studying the high school, however. The district has four schools: Union Elementary School (448 students), Main Street Middle School (344 students), Montpelier High School (386 students), and Roxbury Village School (42 students).
“MRPS is interested in acquiring the services of a consultant who can facilitate a robust community engagement process and help the district assess future options and opportunities for the facilities within our school district,” the RFP states. The deadline for proposals is Oct. 2.
The winning consultant, who will be paid between $50,000 and $75,000, will conduct at least three public hearings and is being asked to collect data on expected enrollment predictions, associated space needs, potential land available in Montpelier proper, potential costs associated with any new build, climate change models for Montpelier, and ideas and costs associated with retrofitting Montpelier High School to better handle flood water.
The board considered changing some of the wording of the RFP, but decided it did not want to delay the process and approved the RFP as presented, “High school’s a super formative experience, and we don’t want kids waiting on things,” said school board chair Jim Murphy. He said any action the school board takes will be informed by the consultant’s study, “not decided by that.”
The work schedule of the RFP states that “[t]he interim report shall be presented to the school board at [its] public meeting on March 20, 2024 and a final report given on May 15, 2024.”
Track and Merger Decisions on Hold
Before the flood, the board unanimously voted for a $2 million Montpelier High School track project, but in light of the flood, Murphy asked board members to “pause the track project while we do this RFP, and then revisit it when we have more information.” Kristen Getler, board member, added “without unassigning the money.”
The RFP states the winning bidder will provide “recommendations for multiple options for the MRPS community to decide on regarding District facilities.”
“Throw it all at the wall, get community input, to be having these deeper exploratory conversations at the board,” said Getler.
Miriam Serota-Winston, student representative on the board, said “I definitely still support the track project, I also run track so I might not be the most unbiased person, but this seems logical.”
“We certainly don’t want to be in a position where we just leave the high school as it is, and say ‘let’s not build anything because it’s in a flood zone’ because that’s a huge disservice to our students,” said Murphy.
Vice chairperson of the board Mia Moore pointed out that capital projects outside the floodplain are still on-going, “like the auditorium at [Union Elementary School],” and playground.
One public commenter said a track is “a very appropriate use in a flood plain” because of its low increase in elevation compared to a large building. He added “it’s the kind of thing that could withstand flooding,” and would be useful to the middle school and community members, with benefits to social and emotional learning.
Lisa Burns, public commenter, said “putting money into a building that is in a floodplain is ridiculous.” She also implored the board to take note of the negative effects “from the year and a half where your education was impacted by COVID.”
“Personally I became very convinced about the value of the track program, in terms of its broad accessibility to so many kids of so many abilities, and so many mindsets,” said Getler.
“There may be a lot of engineering work that comes along with drainage across the entire site,” said board member and clerk Rhett Williams. “That may be a different way of looking at how the funds are actually used ultimately.”
“If we really want to move the high school we’re talking about probably a $25 to $40 million bond,” said Murphy. “That’s not cheap. And then there’s the question of ‘do we even have land for that,’ in Montpelier.”
Murphy clarified that “district money is not city money.” The school’s budget can’t be spent on Montpelier’s water system.
About MRPS and U-32 districts merging, Murphy reported Meagan Roy, Washington Central Unified Union School District superintendent, and Flor Diaz Smith, board chair, “do not feel that the time for that conversation is now,” as they are busy “going through a reorganization and strategic planning process.” Murphy said U-32 offered facilities to share if flood repairs took too long. “It’s great to have two communities working off each other.”
“Whatever the outcome of the process is, we will ensure that for each school year, the students are in a building that is functional and meets their needs,” said Murphy.
Input from Community and Students Needed
Montpelier Roxbury Public School board meetings this winter, which are open to the public, will include budget presentations. Bonesteel suggested moving the public comment portion of the meetings to after the budget presentations for better feedback.
“We’d probably play with our board meetings, and make it more like a public forum,” said Murphy. “It might be nice to plug in some dates for community feedback so that the public knows when to be paying attention,” said Bay-Hansen.
About discussions like the track, or merger, “I do feel like it is being communicated with the students, but maybe not as much as for people who don’t actively seek out resources for communication,” said Alara Kohn, student representative. The school might “host like a student forum,” said Bay-Hansen.
James Rea, a public commenter “speaking as a parent,” noted “the noise that you are most likely to hear probably doesn’t represent the bulk of the community.”