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Lots of Looking Ahead: Second Semester Plans and Important Updates on the Outdoor Education Center

Gaspe Backcountry Ski Trip - Encounter Week 2020
     Thanks to everyone who has participated in the scenario planning and helped us complete the rollout of the plans for the second semester at Vermont Commons.  If you haven’t had a chance to hear, see, and review what’s in store (our plan for opening the spigot and thoughtfully easing our way back into the building), please go to the webpage where you’ll find a recording of the presentation to our parents/guardians, the slide show from that presentation, and a written description of the process and results:  https://vermontcommons.org/about-us/secondsemester2020-21/.  We’re excited about the rest of the year and looking forward to what 2021 will bring at Vermont Commons!
     While the attention we’ve given to these plans has been necessarily enormous, behind the scenes, an equally time-consuming (and time well spent!) effort has been ongoing.  This is our work on the “O.E.C.,” the Outdoor Education Center (the name for the land at Spear Street we purchased in September).  While we’ve been able to make use of the land since the week we closed on it, having students and teachers out there for meetings as well as Encounter Experiences every week, a small board task force has simultaneously been working on the various permits necessary for our long-term ownership and stewardship of the land.
     In October we completed the required transfer of the Current Use filing from the prior owner to us, in the process requesting to remove the grassland from Current Use.  For those of you not familiar with the Current Use program, it’s a state-administered tax-abatement program for farmers and foresters that helps those folks pay significantly less property taxes on their properties actively being farmed or timbered.  The prior land owners had the parcel registered with the state and as a result paid for this size parcel a negligible amount (around $2,000) of property taxes each year since the 1970s.  But like all registered non-profits, we do not pay property taxes and so needed also to file our tax-exempt paperwork with the Town of Charlotte’s Assessor’s office, something we also took care of in October.
     The next steps have been to generate a site master-plan–the vision of what we think aligns best between the school’s current and future needs for Outdoor Education and Environmental Stewardship and Charlotte’s Town Plan and the bests interests of neighborhood and, more importantly, the natural quality of the site itself.  What do students do at Vermont Commons right now when they’re on land, in the woods?  They study.  They hike.  They camp (often in our yurt in Huntington).  They create–from infrastructure for the school or other groups to art and writing.  They collaborate, learning skills of resilience, self-reliance, leadership, cooperation, decision making, problem solving, ecological stewardship and responsibility, and many others.
     The draft site plan for the O.E.C. is meant to echo this, doing so with as light of an environmental footprint as possible.  There’s a place for a covered learning pavilion, so that truly inclement weather doesn’t scuttle our plans for learning on a given day out there.  There’s a trail, situated cautiously to avoid erosion, wetlands, stream banks, and other sensitive areas so that our students and faculty can get through the main wetland and into the woods with minimum impact.  There are two yurts so that we can spend Encounter Weeks and other overnights living on the land because there’s no better way to become a steward of a place than knowing it deeply and no better way to know it deeply than spending extended and repeated time there.  There’s a composting toilet to serve those yurts and the trail so that the impact of our waste is mitigated completely ecologically.  There’s a parking lot for 25 cars, a shielded screen for two portable toilets, and a small bike/equipment shed (an addition by one of our sophomores working on his Eagle Scout).  And we’ve sketched in the outlines of two practice fields in the already-open hay field so that the ultimate frisbee team could run two scrimmages at once during their practices, particularly so that when we have boys and girls squads or middle and high school, no one is ever disadvantaged when it comes to practice time.
     Since late summer, we’ve worked with Civil Engineering Associates to draft the formal documents of these plans for us so that we could begin the permitting process with Charlotte’s Planning Commission, Zoning Board, Town Planner, and Town Zoning Administrator.  CEA completed that draft, we submitted it in its first, rough stage, known as a Sketch Plan, to the Town Planner and Planning Commission in late November.  The initial sketch plan review by the Commission happened last Thursday evening, December 3rd, and the Commission (as a regular practice) asked for a site visit, which is scheduled for tomorrow morning, Saturday, December 12th, at 9 a.m. on site at the OEC (2369 Spear Street).  Vermont’s open meeting laws require this site visit to be open to the public, and so while you’re welcome at the OEC anytime (it is your) outdoor education campus, this is another time you might find interesting to be there.  The Commission chose to continue the sketch plan review through this site visit and into their next meeting, which will take place this coming Thursday, December 17th at 7 p.m.(unfortunately right smack in the middle of our own VCS Arts Night).  Zoom info for this meeting can be found here:  https://www.charlottevt.org/vertical/sites/%7B5618C1B5-BAB5-4588-B4CF-330F32AA3E59%7D/uploads/PC_Agenda_Dec._17_2020.pdf.
     Charlotte Planning Commission meetings are held on Zoom, are also open to the public, and have specific time in them for public questions and input for each agenda item, in this including our sketch plan.  I encourage you to join and to speak up.  If you have considered input to share, appropriate channels include public letters to the Planning Commission, participating and speaking up at Planning Commission or Zoning Board meetings, or stopping by site visits, when the Town of Charlotte schedules them.
     For more information, please continue to find updates in News and Notes, reach out to me directly, or go to Charlotte’s website where you can find current information, including the complete draft sketch plan and supporting documents: https://www.charlottevt.org/index.asp?Type=B_BASIC&SEC={C1F88463-E0B8-4138-BA80-F0805B74CEF0}&DE={126E62B9-B901-4EFA-A2D0-95536E618626}.
     I look forward to sharing the OEC with you over the years–and decades–to come!
Dr. Dexter Mahaffey, Head of School

Scholarship. Community. Global Responsibility.

At Vermont Commons School, our goal is to engage students with their world. We achieve this through programs and a curriculum grounded in local and global involvement.