For the people: town schools, affordable housing, no "Circ": CLF in Vermont is ...

Author:Sinclair, Mark
Position:From the States

Challenging the Site of a Bennington School

As part of our anti-sprawl campaign in Vermont, CLF is opposing the siting of Bennington's new Mount Anthony Union Middle School. The planned site is nearly two miles outside the town center, on prime farmland. School construction in such areas results in the loss of such land, makes it harder for traditional community centers to remain vital, and fuels the rapid development of residential and commercial sprawl. Experts in Land-use planning have described school districts as "advance scouts for [residential] sprawl." But building new schools needn't lead to sprawl.

Many parts of the country are finding that locating schools in town centers, with access to existing sidewalks, libraries, and other town facilities, costs less, renews the centers, fosters compact development, and improves quality of Life. CLF's school sprawl initiative involves advocating state-wide changes in Vermont's school construction program, to establish policies that encourage smart growth and re-use of existing buildings.

Today, Vermont's school construction funding and siting policies, like those of many other states, favor building new schools over upgrading existing ones. Requirements for expansive school grounds and "big box" construction favor sprawling, rural locations away from town centers; fewer and fewer children are able to walk to school. But there are huge, hidden costs to this approach. In addition to causing residential sprawl, remote school locations increase costs: for sewer and water line extensions, road construction and improvements, and the busing of children.

CLF has invited Bennington County's local officials, the School Board, and the state's Department of Education to work with us at finding a reasonable downtown location for the Mount Anthony School. Should our efforts be rejected, we will make our case to state regulators that the project fails to satisfy a number of environmental standards under Vermont's Act 250 land use law (requiring public review of the growth effects of major development projects). Our ultimate goals are to convince the state to:

* End requirements encouraging schools to site on Large tracts of open, rural land.

* Give preference and financial incentives for improving existing schools.

* Require that new schools be located in designated growth centers.

CLF hopes to convince the Bennington community to locate the school in the town's center. Many benefits would ensue: a school...

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