MONTPELIER — The Montpelier-Roxbury Public Schools Board is wrestling with how much to spend to deal with the infamous “mud lot” at Montpelier High School.
Used as overflow parking space on the east side of the Smilie Auditorium, the unpaved lot is icy or muddy for several months of the year through winter and spring and has to be blocked off.
At a meeting of the School Board at Montpelier High School on Wednesday, Business Manager Grant Geisler and Facilities Director Andrew LaRosa presented alternative plans to deal with the lot and discussed costs.
Geisler said administrators came to the board because VSECU, the credit union across the street, had backed out of a plan to partner with the school district and pay to pave the lot for use by some of its employees. VSECU was still interested in paying to lease spaces in the school lot, he added.
Geisler and LaRosa presented two options to deal with the lot. One proposal would be to pave the lot and create spaces for 40 vehicles, at an estimated cost of $350,000.
Or, the lot could be “re-grassed” and returned to green space for recreation, they said. Costs to return the lot to green space could be $100,000 or less, depending on the need to remove and replace topsoil, and also make provision for fire lane access around the back of the school, Geisler said.
Because the project was not included in the school district budget, Geisler said money for the project could come out of the reserve fund. Geisler said there is approximately $1.2 million in the reserve fund, of which $314,000 is committed to residual work at the Union Elementary School playground ($157,000), bathroom renovations at UES ($117,000), $31,000 for a bathroom upgrade and work on the town hall section of the Roxbury Village School, and funds to upgrade the school district website.
Asked if the cost of the parking lot upgrade could be better spent on higher priorities within the school district or for educational or recreational programs, Geisler said he was not at the board meeting to discuss how the reserve fund should be spent. He said because the agreement with VSECU to upgrade the lot had fallen through, the board had to decide whether it wanted to approve a parking lot project that could be paid for with money from the reserve fund.
Some board members expressed concern that if the lot were re-grassed, returned to green space and closed to parking, some members of the community that use it regularly might complain. Other members agreed there was a need to add parking at the school, for sporting or cultural events, and in winter when snow piles in the paved lot reduced the number of spaces.
Board member Michel Braun, who is the executive director of Friends of the Winooski, recused herself from the discussion because her organization had secured a grant for the design and a stormwater management plan for the mud lot because it is close to the river. But she said the board needed to make a decision about what to do with the lot before August or the funds would go to another project.
LaRosa said that the board would need to make a decision soon about what to do with the lot, based on its current agreement with VSECU, which was up for renewal in November, and because it would take some time to get estimates for either project option for the lot.
The board postponed a decision and a vote on the project while administrators further explore the options and costs involved.