By Karson Petty | Community News Service
All six schools in the Champlain Valley School District will soon need to meet new standards for stormwater drainage.
CVSD schools are among the 70 Vermont schools and colleges that need to improve their stormwater management infrastructure under the Vermont Clean Water Act of 2015.
The schools will need a “3-acre general permit,” which applies to all properties that have 3 or more acres of paved or roofed surfaces, making it difficult for rain and snowmelt to soak into the soil.
The new stormwater rules also serve to update the permits that were issued under standards prior to 2002 and give permits to properties that do not currently have stormwater permits.
Most public schools in the Lake Champlain basin are prime candidates for the permit because of their expansive parking lots, sidewalks and large buildings. State regulators anticipated that schools might need help applying for a new stormwater permit and designing stormwater treatment systems according to the new standards. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has recruited an engineering firm to oversee an assistance program for schools via a request for proposal process.
The DEC had about $2 million in grants for stormwater drainage improvements, and last March, awarded the funds to Chicago-based GreenPrint Partners to distribute to schools where the permit applies. GreenPrint specializes in developing green infrastructure and administers programs that encourage towns to approve more environmentally friendly developments.
“Our main focus is putting more green infrastructure in the ground,” said Laura Kenney of GreenPrint Partners.
GreenPrint Partners does the administrative work for the DEC-endorsed Vermont Green Schools Initiative.
“We match schools that have enrolled for assistance through the Vermont Green Schools Initiative with local Vermont vendors, contractors and design firms — people that are able to help the schools meet the new permit requirements,” Kenney said.
CVSD schools would probably not be as far along in the design and permitting process without assistance through the Green Schools Initiative, said CVSD Chief Operations Officer Jeanne Jensen.
“We appreciate the funding and expertise,” she said.
All schools that applied for assistance are still in phase one of the initiative — the design, planning and permitting phase.
Phase two of the initiative is when the construction of new stormwater infrastructure begins. Once construction plans are approved, schools will have five years to install new drainage systems or retrofit existing ones.
Jensen said construction on CVSD school properties would begin as soon as plans are approved and funding is in place.
State regulators initially estimated that 47 schools would sign up with GreenPrint Partners for designing and permitting assistance, but 65 have applied.
“We confirmed that we had additional funding to cover those 18 additional schools,” Kenney said, “so if they enrolled, they will receive assistance if they haven’t already.”
State regulators anticipate awarding $30,000 grants to every school that applied, but Kenney explained that some schools needed more and some less funding based on the complexity of their stormwater treatment plans.
“It’s 100 percent funded based on what (the school) needs,” Kenney said, “and the only thing that schools would be responsible for financially is filing for a permit.”
The Green Schools Initiative is a combined effort of the DEC, GreenPrint Partners, the Lake Champlain Sea Grant and UVM Extension to provide funding and technical assistance to schools that fall under the permit, and to educate local communities about the effects of stormwater runoff on Vermont lakes and rivers.
“(The Initiative) is really aimed at reducing runoff and pollution entering Lake Champlain through the Lake Champlain and Lake Memphremagog basins, that’s coming from public school grounds,” said Lake Champlain Sea Grant Watershed and Lake Education Coordinator Ashley Eaton.
Lake Champlain Sea Grant’s Soaking Up Stormwater curriculum is available for upper-elementary, middle and high school teachers and aims to help students and teachers understand waterways and how stormwater runoff can affect them.
The Community News Service is part of the Reporting and Documentary Storytelling Program at the University of Vermont.