After the Act 46 study committee voted on March 23 to limit the amount of debt that a newly unified school board would share for repairs to the Warren Elementary School building to $2.55 million, the Warren School Board came back together to discuss the project.
At their March 30 meeting, they said that it was possible to reduce their previously planned bond amount, set to a maximum of $5 million, down to $2.55 million. In past weeks, the school’s building and grounds committee has met to eliminate items from the initial plan put forth by Burlington-based architectural company TruexCullins.
At their most recent April 12 board meeting, TruexCullins representatives presented a newly drafted cost evaluation and Warren principal Beth Peterson said that the quote includes “very few aesthetic changes.”
In the Act 46 study committee’s March 23 meeting, they discussed a provision that was added to bill H.853 (section 7), which allows the study committee to limit the amount of bonded indebtedness (socialized debt) that the newly consolidated board would take on from individual schools.
Study committee chair Gabe Gilman said that once Washington West Supervisory Union (WWSU) districts are consolidated – which could occur in July 2017 with an accelerated version of the merger or in July 2019 as the state’s overall deadline to merge public districts – the Warren board would still exist if they held debt beyond $2.55 million.
But Warren principal Beth Peterson said that since the building would be owned by the newly merged board when the consolidation occurs, the Warren School Board would not ask Warren taxpayers to borrow and pay off additional debt beyond what would be shared.
Warren board members anticipate the necessity to complete further repairs, such as the replacement of an old boiler, in the near future. The Act 46 study committee has said that capital reserves could be used for such projects and, in the case of an emergency, the unified board would budget for certain items.
On March 30, Warren board member Jen Watkins said, “I think it’s really a matter of do you trust that? If you don’t trust that, then we should probably not be merging. But if you do trust that, then I don’t see any reason in the world to ask Warren voters to assume debt all on their own for a property that we do not own when it could otherwise be a shared cost of the SU [supervisory union].”
Peterson said that regarding the oil boiler, it “is in danger of failing at any moment, but it’s not a current air quality problem and it’s not an emergency at this point.” She added, “I feel assured that if it was an emergency that it would be taken care of.”
TruexCullins was paid $8,600 by the Warren board to create a projection of energy cost savings that could result from different amounts of building insulation, different grades of windows and the like.
They presented a series of four options showing relationships of capital and operating costs over a 20-year period. The board could have selected a $2.1 million construction project that comes with less insulation and, therefore, according to TruexCullins, less savings in future operating costs.
TruexCullins representatives called their selection of a $2.55 million project a “prudent investment.” Architect David Epstein said that Warren Elementary School could “build the building for the future.”
Vermont School Boards Insurance Trust (VSBIT) recommended a series of repairs for Warren to complete back in 2009 and Washington West Supervisory Union superintendent Brigid Scheffert Nease reported safety violations associated with the incomplete repairs to Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe this past September. Holcombe told the board that they must proceed with repairs to the building and grounds as soon as possible.
Peterson said that many of these items have already been completed and that the board will continue to address items on the list. While some items are included in the construction project, others are not and will be paid for through the school’s budget.
The board will host two informational meetings related to the bond, on Monday, May 2, at 7:30 a.m., and Tuesday, May 10, at 7 p.m. Both will be held at Warren Elementary School. The bond vote is scheduled for May 17.