Chamberlin School Undergoes Noise Testing: District Invests in Independent Study of Airport Sound Data

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Thursday April 12, 2018

As the F-16 jets soar and rumble across the sky above Chamberlin School this month, there will be more than the usual collective pause from faculty, students, and staff as they pass overhead. There will also be a collection of sound data as part of an independent noise testing effort initiated by South Burlington school officials. Depending on what the data reveals, the results could trigger a contingency plan, ranging from sound insulation to the possibility of relocating students.

Noise Testing and the Push for Sound Insulation
The high-decibel atmosphere has been the norm for the school and its 250 students,many of whom live in the Chamberlin neighborhood. The building sits only a few blocks away from the Burlington International Airport and is within the 65 dB noise contour lines in the current Noise Exposure Maps. The maps have previously been used to determine which nearby homes were eligible for buyout.

“The noise at Chamberlin has been around for a long time,” Superintendent David Young said. “It’s been what we’ve determined as an ‘educational pause.’ Those can be instrumental moments. We’ve made up for it, and the teachers and staff have been diligent about making sure that they’re able to pick back up where they left off.”

The long-standing questions of what effects noise has in a learning environment have been further amplified with knowledge that the coming F-35s are up to four times louder than the F-16s at 1,000 ft., according to the U.S. Air Force.

Young and the district’s attorney have been persistent with pressing the FAA and the Burlington International Airport for sound insulation funds for the school, to no avail. Young expressed that the push should have occurred sooner. “It’s less about F-35 and more about the continued noise,” he said. “We’ve had the educational pause for many years. Honestly, this is an area as a district we should have been on a long time ago. Based on the noise, we should have more strongly advocated for noise insulation at the school.”

Therefore, while continuing to push for sound insulation funds, school officials decided to take sound testing into their own hands in late 2017 by contracting with an independent firm, ATC, to help measure the noise decibel levels inside and outside the school to determine a baseline.

Testing is being conducted this month once the temperatures rise, since sound tests will be conducted with windows both open and closed. Parents have been notified of potential dates.

Additional testing will be conducted on the playground and with staff members in locations both inside and outside of the building. ATC will retrieve information during an eight-hour school day (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.)—as well as the evening—and measure the per-hour number of aircraft-related noise events in excess of the 65 dBA and 75 dBA threshold.

Once the data collection is complete, ATC will run the numbers against data in the 2013 Environmental Impact Statement, the Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration (VOSHA) regulations concerning hearing conservation, as well as the 1992 FICON report (Federal Interagency Committee on Noise).

The report on the sound tests should be available in early May, and the testing is estimated to cost approximately $15,000.

“I’m looking forward to the noise testing results, as we want to provide the safest environment for students and staff in our schools,” attested Holly Roulle, principal of Chamberlin School.

Master Planning

The noise testing efforts are woven into the work being done with the Master Planning and Visioning subcommittee, which involves Young, Business Manager John Aubin, former Business Manager John Stewart, and three board members: Bridget Burkhardt, Martin LaLonde, and Steve Wisloski. The Master Planning and Visioning process looks at enrollment, demographics, the first phase of an architectural analysis of middle and high schools, and school climate conditions. They are also assessing safety and security at each facility, Young said.

Part of the discussion has been the fate of Chamberlin School given its current noise exposure and what changes may be coming in the next year. While sound insulation is the route being pursued, the district must also be prepared in the event the noise levels, currently or in anticipation of louder F-35s, are considered an extreme interference in the classroom. This could mean consolidation by relocating Chamberlin students to Orchard or Rick Marcotte Central School, using modular classrooms as temporary space, and moving fifth graders in with the middle school—but right now, it’s all up in the air.

More specifically, Chamberlin is being assessed in the context of some of these four main goals:
• Identify the specific needs for upgrades at the high school and middle school by June 30, 2018
• Identify and set up a system to monitor and report issues that may impact the district’s ability to maintain or improve the quality of Pre-K through 12 public education, or any threats to the health and education outcomes to students caused by the location and/or physical space of the Chamberlin Elementary School
• Develop a contingency plan to ensure equitable delivery of elementary educational services in South Burlington should the Chamberlin Elementary School need to be closed.
• Revitalize the district’s strategic plan starting with an analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (phase one) SWOT and develop a plan for additional phases of a strategic planning process by December 31, 2018

“In terms of outcomes for students, the Chamberlin students do just as well as Rick Marcotte or Orchard students,” board member Bridget Burkhardt said, “It’s hard to make a case that there’s a problem based on the student outcome data so far, but there’s a lot of research about the impacts of noise and educational outcomes, so we want to make sure we have real, solid data and not just assumptions we’re making based on testing of students that we have so far.”

The Airport

The airport has met frequently with Young but has not yet had much success with the FAA, according to Nicolas Longo, the airport’s deputy director of aviation administration. The airport did receive grant approval last month to update the Noise Exposure Maps with forecasted F-35 data.

The airport is also working on updating the Part 150 Noise Compatibility Program, which would include additional land use measures and means of noise mitigation, such as sound insulation.

Following numerous attempts, Longo said that the FAA is more open to receiving the request.

“The FAA is about 95 percent on board and have said to apply for a grant that would study the eligibility and implementation of sound insulation at the school,” he said. “Not all rooms are going to be eligible; there are going to be certain federal regulations we’ll have to follow.”

The airport will be applying for the grant after the FAA’s May 1 deadline, but the airport can technically apply for grants at any time. If the grant is approved, sound testing with federal funds could commence as early as this summer. Worst case scenario, if the school is eligible, the grant is prepped for the May 1, 2019 deadline.

“If we get that, we’ll be scheduling with David [Young] and his staff to analyze indoor and outdoor noise levels, analyze which schools are eligible, and, if it comes back as eligible, then we will look at how we implement it—which rooms do we do and what do we do to the school.”

“From that report, I can take budget numbers from the analysis, and I can compile another grant application for actual construction.”

The independent study from ATC will not be eligible to use in the work being done with the FAA Part 150 Study, he confirmed.

An Uncertain Future

Central School for the proposed new library/city hall building on Market Street. Loss of parking lot space, which is being requested by the city, would narrow the school’s options.

To further complicate matters, the uncertainty of whether Chamberlin School students will need to be relocated to other schools muddles the city’s recent request for property around Rick Marcotte Central School for the proposed new library/city hall building on Market Street. Loss of any property, including a portion of the Central School parking lot space which is being requested by the city, would narrow the school’s options for relocation, if needed.

At the April 4 board meeting, Burkhardt was frank in expressing her concerns for what the data may reveal and what the implications may be.

“We could get information back from Chamberlin from the end of the month that tells us, not only will it be too loud when the F-35s come, but it’s too loud now, and maybe too loud for insulation to make a difference,” she said.

In response to the city’s land exchange request, she added, “At that stage, we’d be scrambling to find space at our other properties to try to house those kids and make sure we’re providing an equitable education for them, and that’s my priority right now.”

The next school board meeting is April 18.


SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent