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Tent inspections delay in-person start at ConVal

  • An aerial view of ConVal High School shows some of the school's outdoor tent classrooms. Photo by Swift Corwin

  • ConVal staff, some of whom are teaching in outdoor tent classrooms, participate in a fire drill last week. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • A tent has been erected to teach returning students outside to mitigate possible Covid-19 infections at the Bethel Elementary School. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger GLENN RUSSELL

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/9/2020 4:30:43 PM
Modified: 9/9/2020 4:30:33 PM

ConVal middle and high school students began the 2020-21 school year remotely due to delays in the safety inspection process for the more than 80 tents set up as outdoor classrooms throughout the district.

“There were so many moving pieces to get the school running again,” Peterborough Fire Chief Ed Walker said on Tuesday, “nobody really anticipated how long these little nuances... were going to take.”

The “nuances” holding up reopening involve state inspection standards that developed following the deadly 2013 circus tent collapse in Lancaster, Walker said. Building permits and inspections are required for any tent with a footprint larger than 400 square feet on commercial or public properties, he said. Roughly 50 of the school’s 80 rented tents meet that size requirement and therefore must be inspected by fire department personnel and meet a list of criteria developed by the State Fire Marshal’s office. The rest of the tents are being inspected by the school district with help from an engineering company, Walker said.

One requirement on the inspection checklist is that the tents have engineering documents, detailing their wind speed ratings and more, Walker said. Greenfield-based Monadnock Tent and Event, which is contracted to set up the tents, typically works in residential, noncommercial settings. Although some of the business’s tent inventory had all required documentation, other tents that had been set up were “perfectly good and safe, but never validated as safe for commercial use,” Walker said – a paperwork issue. ConVal contracted an engineer to work with Monadnock Tent and Event and tent manufacturers to piece together the daunting amount of paperwork necessary for local fire departments to eventually sign off on all of them, Walker said. The district worked through Labor Day weekend on the process, he said, but it was not clear how long it would take to get the tents, some of which have already been wired for electricity and internet, cleared for occupation.

The timeline of the inspection process was in the school district’s and engineer’s hands, Monadnock Tent and Event owner John Hopkins said on Wednesday. A handful of tents are still scheduled to go up outside some of the district’s elementary schools, and they’ll be available for use through Thanksgiving, he said. There have not yet been any decisions made on tent use in the spring semester, he said. “I appreciate the opportunity to provide safe tents for the school district,” Hopkins said, and that he’s enjoyed working with all parties involved in the process. His business is also scheduled to set up tents for the Jaffrey-Rindge and Chesterfield school districts.

A representative from the ConVal School District could not be reached by print deadline.

In a statement, the district reiterated that students pre-K through Grade 6 would start school in person on Sept. 8, while students in grades 7 through 12 would begin remotely, save for students identified as having internet access or special needs.

Many district parents also reported problems logging their children into their virtual learning centers for the first time, an issue that was commonplace nationwide.


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