On March 28, 2023

Forest school proposal seeks new site

By Brett Yates

Public opposition has led the would-be founders of a nature-based preschool in Chittenden to seek out alternative locations in town for their plan. They now describe their initial target, the North Chittenden Grange Hall, as “a backup site only.”

In January, the team behind the proposed “forest school” asked the Select Board for permission to rent half of the municipally owned building for the indoor component of their full-time, year-round, mostly outdoor program, which aims to address a dearth of childcare options in the area. 

While some residents have spoken in favor of the idea, others have condemned it as a monopolization of public space, which they’ve argued should remain open for spontaneous use by the community.

Another possibility is to use a classroom at the Barstow Memorial School, if it can make one available. 

The preschool’s organizers have scheduled a meeting next week with the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union to discuss the prospect. The town hall in South Chittenden also came up as a potential option at the March 27 Select Board meeting.

“I really do understand about the Grange,” said Clair Purcell, representing the forest school. “And this whole process has thrown up all these other options, and I think that’s what’s been so wonderful about the broad community engagement that we’ve had: Barstow wasn’t considering it before, and now they are, and that’s a really big piece.”

Members of the public attending the meeting assured Purcell that, sited at Barstow, the forest school would have the community’s full support. But Purcell warned of the likelihood of a lengthy process in coming to an agreement with the School Board, and she urged the Select Board to consider a temporary lease at the Grange Hall in the meantime.

“We think this is going to work out, but it’s going to take two months of conversation, and we need that time to get going,” she said.

Without a lease in place, the forest school can’t use its $25,000 start-up grant from the nonprofit Let’s Grow Kids to begin hiring staff.

“The thought was that the school would hopefully be able to go live this summer, and without some degree of certainty, they can’t do anything,” Selectman Andrew Quint said.

The Select Board did not bring the request to a vote before moving on to other business.

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