There aren’t any kids running through the halls of the Hyde Park Elementary School building this fall. Instead, they're being put up at a hotel while their school is undergoing major renovations.
The students in kindergarten through fifth grade are a few miles away, in a former strip mall hotel at the Morrisville Plaza. Sixth graders have a classroom at the Green Mountain Technology and Career Center, on the Lamoille Union Middle and High School Campus. Preschoolers are at various programs around Lamoille County. Principal Diane Reilly says it’s been an adventure.
"It could have been stressful," she says. "It was a little stressful, but for the most part it was more exciting and an adventure. And that’s how we’ve looked at it, as an adventure."
Some classrooms at the Plaza are quite small – just your average size hotel room. Other classrooms are converted suites, with a living area and a kitchen. And some classrooms are carved out of large conference rooms.
There isn’t much space for desks, so a lot of work gets done on clipboards. The rooms are all carpeted, which makes sitting on the floor pretty comfortable, and it helps keep the noise down too.
There aren’t any chalkboards, whiteboards or smartboards on the walls, so the teachers use easels with big pads of paper.
Meals are prepared at Lamoille Union High School and delivered to students in their classrooms. Room service, if you will.
The second graders in Karen Anderson’s classroom say there are plusses and minuses to going to school in a hotel. They like that they have a kitchen in their classroom, including a mini fridge. They also like the air conditioning.
They don't have a fancy playground with climbing structures like back at the elementary school building. Their playground is just a fenced-off patch of grass behind the hotel. But teachers say that has led to more imaginative play. Students bring in toys from home. They make up games with orange traffic cones and portable soccer nets.
Principal Reilly says, while it has been an adjustment, the hotel is a big improvement over a crumbling school building.
"It was pretty bad," she says. "We had ceilings falling in. We had the roof that was going to need replacement. We had one boiler left. We couldn’t regulate the temperature anywhere in the building."
Hyde Park Elementary School has undergone many changes over the years, but there haven’t been major renovations for over two decades, as Reilly explains:
"Hyde Park Elementary School is like a Vermont farmhouse," she says. "You have a small family and then you have kids and then grandchildren, and so you add something on. So, I had the 1898 wing, the 1951 wing, the 1984 wing, the 1994 wing."
Reilly says the school gym wasn’t even built to any school specs. It was built as a set for the 1988 movie "Sweet Hearts Dance" which was shot on location in Hyde Park.
She says passing a construction bond wasn’t easy, especially since there is no more state aid for school construction projects.
"Vermont schools are just in a bad repair, a lot of them, especially the rural schools," she says. "And there’s no money from the state – absolutely none for construction. So we were very fortunate to get a bond in Hyde Park."
After years of debate, voters in Hyde Park approved $9.8 million dollars to renovate the school building. The 1951 wing has now been torn down and three stories of new construction are going up.
The town is paying $200,000 dollars to rent the Plaza Hotel and two storefronts for the school year. One storefront houses the before- and after-school programs and the other is a kindergarten classroom.
And while it’s been a logistical challenge, Reilly says school in a hotel has been a rewarding experience so far. In fact, she says, "Everybody should have to do this."
The Plaza Hotel shut its doors eight years ago. It was empty until last year, when another Hyde Park institution – the Lamoille County Courthouse – underwent renovations. First court was held at the hotel, and now school. One can only imagine what will be there next.