Plymouth School Building Update

From Terry Bascom, Plymouth Activity Coordinator

Update on Plymouth Schoolhouse as an Activity Center

Here is an update on what’s happening with the Plymouth Schoolhouse. It’s a bit long, but I want to be as transparent as possible, and give you all of the information.

Context

As you might be aware, I have spent a significant amount of time during the Fall season trying to work through our liability insurance program and complications. I have had one or more conversations with Two Rivers Supervisory District (who own the building), their insurance company, members of the Plymouth Selectboard, the town’s insurance company, members of the Plymouth School Committee (who oversee my work), the Okemo Valley Region Chamber of Commerce, an independent Ludlow insurance company, and several potential program providers. The goal has been to understand the role liability insurance plays in the operation of Plymouth Schoolhouse as an activity center.

At the end of those conversations, the Plymouth School Committee and I have formulated a new policy. You can read it by clicking the “Event Insurance” button on the Plymouth Activity Calendar website. I will summarize our process and policy in the rest of this post.

(Visit www.plymouthschool.org to view upcoming activities and additional information about what’s happening at the school)

Background

At the heart of the redesign was the cost of short-term insurance plans. We established an arrangement with OneBeacon Entertainment that allows anyone who needs liability insurance for an event or a series of events to purchase a policy online and immediately print out a Certificate of Coverage. OneBeacon Entertainment is used by many towns, school districts, and other public entities both in Vermont and across the nation because their website makes it easy for unprotected program providers to get short term liability insurance. There is no financial benefit to the town, school district, or me for working with OneBeacon Entertainment.

OneBeacon liability policies conform to the industry standard: $1 million per occurrence and $1 million aggregate protection for the person or organization conducting the event or program. The typical premium for a one-time program is about $100; for a typical series (like a recurring exercise class or book discussion) the premium ranges between $185 and $500, depending on the physical risk.

Liability Insurance protects people conducting programs against lawsuits arising from someone being hurt while arriving, participating in, or leaving the event. As such, it also provides another layer of protection for the town and the Supervisory District, and that is why we initially required coverage.

We knew that some programs would come with their own liability insurance coverage. Some agencies and public service businesses that regularly reach into communities to provide programs have policies that extend to authorized events. For example, an AARP safe driving course would be covered by an AARP policy that protects the program presenter, and indemnifies the property owner.

Also, some individual providers have their own Liability Insurance coverage. For example, a person who provides massage services at several locations may have a liability insurance plan that travels with him/her. So might a hair stylist who visits nursing homes and hospitals.

Our initial policy asked for copies of the Certificate of Coverage that would indemnify the Supervisory District and/or Town. We also asked for the industry standard level of coverage. And, we asked individuals who do not have liability insurance plans to purchase coverage.

The Problem

What happened is very simple: Potential providers found themselves in the position of risking from $110 in one case for a one-day event, to as much as $485 in another case for a 24-session program lasting 12 months. Because Plymouth is an untested market and nobody knows what kinds of events will work here, or how strong turnout will be, people who had thought about running programs decided there was too much risk of not even breaking even.

Also, because the Town hopes to develop the Schoolhouse into a self-supporting activity center that pays its own expenses (activity coordinator salary, building maintenance, heat, electricity), we were also asking rent. Well that added to the potential risk and became another reason for potential providers to back out.

Back to the Drawing Board

So the School Committee went back to the drawing board.

We quickly decided to shelve rental fees. It seemed like a no-brainer to us that our first task is to establish the schoolhouse as a site for activities and events. Our second task is to learn through experience what kinds of programs meet the needs and interests of Plymouth residents and visitors. To accomplish those two goals, we also need to help our providers make some money for their time and effort.

However, we also knew that we had to see what flexibility and alternatives are available in regard to liability insurance coverage.

The Revised Policy

After conversations with various stakeholders and outside resource people, we made the following decisions that are reflected in our new policy:

1) Because both the Supervisory District and Town are covered by their existing liability insurance policies, it is not crucial that either body require users of the schoolhouse to have coverage to indemnify the District and Town.

2) While $1 million/$1 million is the industry standard coverage, and is highly recommended because liability claims can quickly add up, we are not and should not be in the position of telling a potential provider how much protection s/he must have.

For example, someone with a policy that provides $300,000 or $500,000 in protection is accepting the risk of a liability claim that exceeds her/his coverage amount. She or he would have to pay out of pocket for any award over that amount, but that is her/his choice, not ours.

3) While we feel strongly that anyone conducting a program or event should protect her/himself against possible liability claims for injuries sustained while arriving for, participating in, or leaving from the event, again we are not and should not be in the position of telling potential providers what to do.

Our role is to educate people who are thinking about using the building or grounds. As a service, we also provide a link to OneBeacon to make securing coverage easy. But each individual provider is in the best position to determine how much risk s/he is willing to assume for the kind of event s/he is offering.

Looking Forward

We hope that the changes in our policy will lead to some fun community-based activities and events!

Of course, we are now in November, with the Thanksgiving-Holy Days-New Year’s season upon us, and that means everyone is getting busier! Still, I will be reaching out to invite those who considered offering events to take another look, because I would love to see some fun programs start to happen at our schoolhouse this winter!

Please remember that your participation in early efforts will encourage providers and potential providers. So, join in when you can!

And if you have been thinking about offering something, or if you know someone I should talk to about offering an event or program, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me – everything works better when ideas and requests come from within the community!

Thanks for your time. I’m always eager to hear from you.

–Terry
672.5390
terry.bascom@yahoo.com

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3 Responses to Plymouth School Building Update

  1. Lee kafer says:

    I cannot recall the language used when the town voted to authorize the funds for your temporary position Terry. But if it included the proviso that the building would bring in rental money to offset expenses, there may be problem with the decision to not charge fees. Not disagreeing with where you are at, Just don;t want ALL your efforts to be for naught.

    • Terry Bascom says:

      Thanks, Lee, I appreciate the note of support.

      The language authorizing my position did not include the expectation that the new activity center would generate funds to offset my pay this first year. The expectation of the select board – and, more importantly, the residents of Plymouth – is that an activity coordinator will be able to show the value of developing an activity center. To me, that means finding activities and programs to hold at the schoolhouse that are interesting to residents and visitors.

      Over the long haul, the building does need to pay its own costs. Not only the pay of an activity coordinator, but also the costs of heat, light, and upkeep. But that is not a one-year goal. It is a 3 – 5 year development effort. Eventually, I would personally like to see the re-purposed schoolhouse not only pay its way, but put a few dollars back into the town budget, but that’s 7 – 10 years out. So for me it looks like this:

      First goal: get the building into use.
      Second goal: make the building and activity program self-supporting.
      Third goal: generate a profit to go back into the town’s budget.

      In the first year, I think we need to host some activities that show enough of the town’s residents that there is enough of a benefit to continuing the effort that we will vote to fund a second year. The insurance issue really slowed my agenda down, but I now have some programs in the hopper for December and early next year; and a conversation started about a large event for August. All of this is months behind my own goals, but it is – finally! – a beginning.

      All interested persons can keep up with our developing calendar of activities by accessing the Plymouth Vermont Activity Calendar at: http://www.plymouthschool.org.

      I also believe that creating a successful community center at the schoolhouse requires some overall revitalization of Plymouth Union. I am excited to see the new restaurant, Fire Side, moving into Salt Ash Inn; it should be a valuable draw. We can try to build on that added attraction in the Village. At the same time we should think more intentionally about how to provide walking distance services and attractions for guests of the Salt Ash Inn and Common Ground. Is there something we can do with the old campground and closed general store? I don’t know yet, but I will be exploring opportunities and interests.

      What can we do or offer to draw some of the many visitors at the Coolidge Homestead, and the guests of Hawk Resort, Inn at Water’s Edge, and Echo Lake Inn into the Village? Can we work in concert with Farm & Wilderness (we already hosted an event of theirs), or Bethany Birches Camp? I will be looking into all of that, too.

      Again, these are more than one-year goals. The hardest part is starting momentum, but once we get some momentum, we can build on that to revive the Village; and then, we can reach further north and south along Route 100, integrating businesses and attractions from the Ludlow border to the Bridgewater line. Potentially, we can bring additional attention to other Plymouth businesses and programs that are not on our main highways.

      Putting the schoolhouse into use is just the beginning. In time, it could be the hub of a broader, more economically and culturally vital Village and town.

      –t

      • Lee says:

        Many great thoughts Terry. You should be in Montpelier, lighting fires under our pols up there. We need jobs for young people. What can/should the Town do to escalate development of our nascent ski area. For decades, that has been dormant and it would be the single issue to get this town thriving, get Hawk back up to cruise etc.

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