Warren Elementary School has been busy tackling a lengthy series of building and grounds repairs and working to remedy some pressing safety concerns found by Vermont School Boards Insurance Trust (VSBIT) in 2009. In the process, they have begun to wonder if building a brand-new school would cost that much more than fixing up the old one.
At a December 1 school board meeting, principal Beth Peterson updated board members about several playground repairs that have been completed with help from both the community and the school’s maintenance staff and said that interior hazards – such as an infestation of mold found inside several walls – must be addressed soon.
SOMETHING MORE EXPANSIVE
While they’re at it, board member Rob Rosen said that the reconstruction period could be “an opportunity for something more expansive” – such as a large addition to the front of the building that would create extra space in the front office, nurse’s office and reception area.
Board members wondered what the cost of these necessary repairs and desired expansions would be in comparison to the cost of an entirely new building – one that incorporates sustainable design – or, they brainstormed, a campus with several buildings spread out on the property. Peterson said that opportunity for students to travel among various buildings would be a “nice aesthetic,” allowing them to “get out of the institutional walls.”
$1 MILLION TO $2 MILLION
The board is compiling a list of potential contracting firms and will release a request for proposals (RFP) in late December. They will announce a bond vote in late December and the public will vote in late April. At this point, the cost of the repairs to the school is unknown, although they are reported to be in the neighborhood of $1million to $2 million.
Regarding the cost of the bond for Warren residents, one community member said, “It’s not something to be mad about,” but safety hazards such as mold growth are “something to be concerned about.”
Since school budgets within the Washington West Supervisory Union (WWSU) could soon be merged under Act 46, any debt that Warren takes on from these building projects could be distributed among schools within WWSU. Rosen asked whether use of the bond could be contingent on whether the public votes to move forward with the accelerated merger.
OTHERS PAY FOR IT
Hypothetically, “If we don’t get merged, we won’t move forward with the bond,” Rosen said.
WWSU director of finance and operations Michelle Baker said that the board would be “asking them (the public) to vote on a bond that will only happen if others pay for it,” and board member Alycia Biondo added that it “feels a little like bullying.”
Rosen’s idea alludes to the uncertainties that school boards currently face in making budgetary decisions for their individual schools when they are unsure of how Act 46 will play out in particular financial scenarios. How much agency will individual schools have with a newly merged, single budget? And one community member asked, “When will we know?”
The list of repairs and security measures to be remedied can be found here: www.warrenschool.org/warrenschool2014/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Holcombe-Action-Plan-Draft.pdf.
The Vermont Agency of Education has put Warren on notice that the repairs and safety upgrades at the school must be tackled sooner versus later.