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Many schools turning to tents

Published: Aug. 14, 2020 at 5:26 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 14, 2020 at 5:28 PM EDT
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - As schools get ready for students to come back, some are getting creative to keep them safe by taking the classroom outside.

"For the past three or four weeks we've had multiple calls every day from schools looking to expand their space to the outdoors," said Mike Lubas, the owner of Vermont Tent Company.

Lubas guesses about 50 schools around Northern Vermont have inquired about tents, a demand he never predicted. He has since purchased more tents, but now the manufacturers are up to eight weeks behind. ”I wish we had more inventory, it’s just the craziest thing we’ve gone through,” Lubas said.

In February, Lubas says 2020 was shaping up to be prosperous. The company was booked solid with weddings, graduations and other large summer gatherings. But with the pandemic, he all of a sudden had zero business.

When the restaurant industry re-opened, it took most of their small tent inventory. Now they are turning schools away. Lubas says this isn't just the case just for his business, but around the state and New England.

“Outdoor classrooms are being constructed around the country. Every day and every single instructional block. The question isn’t like, ‘Do I want to go outside?’ it’s like, ‘Why should I stay inside?’” said Patrick Burke the principal of South Burlington High School.

The decision was clear for Burke after seeing science favor the idea of keeping kids outside for class. "We can take advantage of the window of time that we do have before we do all have to, with some respects, go inside. So, the tents will provide us with some protection from the elements," Burke said.

The school is renting from Lubas' company and Burke says it feels even better supporting a local Vermont business.

Depending on the size of the tent and how long it's being rented, schools may spend a couple thousand dollars for a small tent, or closer to ten-thousand dollars for a larger tent. Economically speaking, this helps the tent business, but there is still a large loss from people not renting other services.

"We're still looking at a 70% to 75% loss of revenue even with this school work, but it's an unexpected source of revenue, so it is certainly helping," Lubas said.

For some schools, the cost is too much. Instead, they'll use trees and current structures on their campus.

The tents that Vermont Tent Company rents are made for the spring and summer, so they have to be taken down by the end of October or early November because of the colder temperatures and snow.

Lubas says they are trying to find ways to help provide spaces in the winter, but the custom tents, some with heated-floors, aren’t in their inventory and would be very expensive for most schools.

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