The Warren School Board is asking the Warren community to support a May 17 vote for a $2.55 million bond which would finance a series of repairs to the building. Burlington-based architectural firm TruexCullins presented the scope of the project to the public at the board’s May 10 meeting.
The board also discussed how they would proceed with a recommendation to the town regarding a June 7 vote for an accelerated version of the statewide law to consolidate school governance and budgets, or Act 46.
Warren Elementary School was built in 1971 and has in past years been subject to mold, leaky pipes, a frozen sprinkler system and other issues as a result of poor insulation and heating.
Last fall, Vermont School Boards Insurance Trust (VSBIT) inspected the building for safety and security issues and gave Warren Elementary School, according to board chair Matthew “Chicky” Staples, a “laundry list” of repairs to investigate further.
The school’s maintenance staff could not take on every project, Staples said, and so the board put out a request for proposals (RFP) to contracting firms. They then selected the Burlington-based company TruexCullins.
Warren Elementary School principal Beth Peterson said that some items that will be completed by the firm cannot be found on the VSBIT report because as issues were investigated even more surfaced.
Repairs will consist mainly of architectural items such as roofs, windows and walls as well as a new heating and ventilation system. Less costly projects include electrical, lighting, plumbing and structural work.
Two of the five classrooms on the school’s second floor also function as hallways, which poses both a fire hazard and an issue with functionality. The hallway will be reconstructed, but a classroom will be lost in the process. TruexCullins representative Cam Featherstonhaugh said that the firm will study this problem and make recommendations in the future.
The firm 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. The board and school’s building committee have settled on items that fall in the middle of the options put forth.
TIES TO ACT 46
The Warren board first recommended construction costs up to $5 million, including an addition to the front of the building. However, the Act 46 study committee – comprised of representatives from each Valley school board as well as Washington West Supervisory Union (WWSU) superintendent Brigid Scheffert Nease – voted to limit Warren’s bond debt to $2.55 million, should the Warren school district merge with others in the WWSU.
Peterson said that the Warren board decided to concede, as Warren taxpayers would be responsible for paying back the remainder for a building that the newly merged board would own.
If Warren residents vote to merge early on June 7, the debt will be shared; if the majority votes not to merge early, Warren taxpayers will share the cost of the bond – an estimated yearly $340 for a $300,000 property.
The board grappled with whether they would recommend that Warren residents vote yes to merge early. Three members voted to recommend the early merger, one voted not to do so and one abstained.
Some community members said that voters deserve to be given information but not to be told how to vote. “Leave it up to us to vote how we see fit,” someone shared.
Board member Adam Greshin said, “I think the board is elected by people to make opinions. ... That’s why we’re here.”
Board member Marie Schmukal agreed that voters should not be told how to vote and abstained from the board vote at present.
Board member Jen Watkins voted not to recommend that Warren residents vote for an early merger. She said that although the supervisory union and the state say that the merger will save money for schools, “You look at the data for consolidation and it shows no such thing.” She added that many residents are unhappy with a constitution written by the Act 46 study committee that would govern the newly merged board.
Issues of contention over the past months for residents in many districts have included the representation of districts on the new board (two representatives for each school, except Waterbury, which would have four) and the inclusion of a rule that would allow a two-thirds vote to close any school.
Board member and Act 46 study committee member Alycia Biondo said that she empathizes with the idea of “bigger bureaucracy not doing justice for our kids’ education,” but “there’s a real big financial writing on the wall.”
When community members questioned the WWSU leadership and whether the Act 46 study committee has researched all possible alternatives to an early merger, Biondo said, “I can’t believe that there’s tainted information or that there’s something sinister going on.”
Biondo, Staples and Greshin voted to recommend that Warren residents vote for an early merger.
The debate, which Peterson called “democracy in action,” shed light on many contentious issues surrounding Act 46. The process, for all, has not been an easy one.