A community forum scheduled for November 12 that would allow residents to weigh in on a series of building projects at Harwood Union High School has been postponed until January or later.
The building projects, which could cost up to $29 million, have been postponed in part due to the uncertainty surrounding Act 46, a new state law that seeks to consolidate school districts across the state by 2019.
Planning for Harwood’s building projects began last February, when the Harwood School Board contacted an architectural firm to assess the cost of implementing structural changes to the school. According to Harwood co-principal Lisa Atwood, the building is not in disrepair but must be updated to comply with current building codes, which have changed since Harwood’s construction in 1966.
The updates are related to lighting, air quality, roofing and windows, Atwood explained. According to school administrators, these structural changes would provide a better environment for learning.
The school formed two committees – one for facilities and one for educational programming – to look into renovations. Projects that come under the umbrella of “educational programming” include the renovation of science labs, the creation of a community space for ninth-graders and the redesign of the front lobby and other multipurpose rooms.
At a Harwood School Board meeting that took place last Wednesday, October 21, the facilities committee provided an update about the project. District facility director Ray Daigle noted that the renovations that would bring Harwood up to code are expected to cost an estimated $17 million.
The committee has prioritized the renovation of science labs, aiming to update current lab equipment and technologies for an additional $12 million, and it has also looked into rearranging walls in order to expand classroom sizes.
“What is the board willing to support in the community and what do they think the community’s tolerance for a project is?” Daigle asked at a Harwood Union board meeting on October 2, referencing the project’s high price tag.
Future decisions regarding these projects, however, “will depend upon all the other moving parts,” Atwood said, the most important part being how the implementation of Act 46 will affect Harwood’s budget.
With the consolidation of school districts, according to the new law, there will be certain tax benefits, Atwood said. With Act 46, however, all students, faculty and administrators within the Washington West Supervisory Union (WWSU) would come under the constraints of a single budget and this could reduce spending for the time being, she said.
Until it knows more, Harwood will hold off on the building project and the board has postponed a community forum in which it hoped to hear from residents about the renovations. “If we want people to come out in support and understand what is happening, we need certain things answered first,” Atwood explained.