Up-Island school committee allows chargers at Chilmark School

Approval allows Chilmark energy committee to move forward with grant application.

The Up-Island Regional School District supported the installation of one or more electric chargers at the Chilmark School. This picture, taken at a prior meeting of the Chilmark board of selectmen, shows an aerial view of the proposed locations.

The Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) supported the idea of one or more electric vehicle (EV) rapid chargers in the parking lot of the Chilmark School.

Although Chilmark will be the last Island town to make some form of EV charging available to the general public, they will be the first to install rapid chargers, which can charge a vehicle fully in just 40 minutes.

At an UIRSD meeting Tuesday, Chilmark energy committee chair Rob Hannemann said the town is getting down to the wire on applying for a state grant that would fully fund the installation of the chargers. The deadline to apply for that program is March 19. 

Additionally, Eversource is offering its Make Ready Program, which would pay for the entirety of costs related to the hookup to the power grid.

“We have a very strict deadline two weeks from now to have the application in, or lose the chance at free money,” Hannemann said.

The overall cost and contribution from both funding programs is not yet known, because the number of chargers and specifics regarding construction have not been finalized in the application. 

The energy committee has identified several ideal locations for chargers, with Hannemann’s first choice being the Post Office. Although he said the town owns the Post Office parking lot, he still needs to engage with Post Office representatives, which has proven to be difficult. The U.S. Postal Service has a long-held lease with the town for the Post Office location.

The community center is also being considered as a location.

Hannemann stressed that the school location would be used as a filler in the application, and the official vote to install the chargers can come later. 

“We want to use the school parking lot as a straw man in the application process,” he said.

With the UIRSD also soon to acquire electric buses, committee member Robert Lionette wondered if those buses could utilize the rapid charger. To his knowledge, he said, the buses would be compatible with the charging plug being proposed. 

Several other committee members agreed that the electric buses may very well end up using the chargers in the future. 

In other business, the committee approved a second reading of an update to the remote learning attendance policy, which would require that any student who started the 2021 academic year attending an UIRSD school be allowed to remain in the remote learning cohort until the end of the 2021 academic year.

The policy currently stipulates that any child enrolled in the school system who is away from school for 10 contiguous school days and is residing somewhere other than the Island needs to register for school in that new location, and cannot enroll in the remote learning cohort offered by Up-Island schools.

UIRSD committee chair Alex Salop stressed that the point of the policy change is to recognize the unusual circumstances presented to schools that offer remote learning, and make the decision that will minimize disruptions in learning as much as possible.

“We can make a policy change about this year that does not affect our policy as a school system moving forward,” Salop said. “We must think about the welfare of our students, first and foremost.”

Superintendent Matt D’Andrea agreed that this is an unprecedented and challenging situation for schools that must be approached with care. “We now have this possibility that families can be anywhere in the world and can Zoom into their classroom,” D’Andrea said.

Since the beginning of the year, D’Andrea said, schools have been enforcing the residency policy.

“There have been families that have desired to continue to participate remotely and have been told they cannot. The remote program we set up is specifically to help families with concerns around health, not around travel,” he said.

D’Andrea said he reached out to other districts to see how they are handling remote attendance policies, and about half of the districts he reached out to allowed students to participate remotely from other locales. 

But the only reason that other schools are allowing remote attendance outside of their districts is for COVID-related reasons, and if their family or student intends to return to the area to participate.

The third reading of the policy will take place at the next UIRSD committee meeting.