After surviving the heated discussions around the school closures and middle school migration, the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) board has moved on to another issue: the Harwood bond.
The exact components of the bond have yet to be determined, as the bond is still in its early stages of development. However, last night, December 18, the board agreed on a motion that would take the bond above and beyond. The motion was for the board to “affirm its intention to pursue a bond that includes Harwood priority 1 and 2 renovations as well as programmatic additions.”
Current board thinking is to bring one districtwide bond to voters in June 2020.
Priority 1 and 2 renovations include basic but necessary renovations to Harwood, like fixing its leaky roof. The “programmatic additions” referenced in the motion include everything from moving the library, adding a STEM center, as well as upgrading the gym, track and outdoor equipment building. By voting on this motion, the board agreed to do the basic renovations included in priorities 1 and 2 and some other things too. However, what those “other things” are is still up for debate.
School board chair Caitlin Hollister explained the motion best after a member of the public stood to ask, “What exactly are you voting on? Are you voting to pursue everything on that entire list?”
Hollister explained that the motion is not exclusive. “We’re not just going to do priority 1, which includes about $15 million in deferred maintenance. Nor are we just going to do priority 1 and 2, which would be about $19 million in total for deferred maintenance and energy upgrades. We’re going to go beyond that. But the board still has a lot of decisions to make around what ‘beyond’ means,” said Hollister.
A NEW TRACK?
Voting to go “beyond” on the bond seems vague. Does “beyond” mean a just a new track? Does “beyond” mean a new track, library and STEM center? Hollister explained the reasoning behind the vague language in the motion.
“What I’m hoping is that we’ll take up a new directive to our team to then bring us design options that encompass right now what I see as a range of about $9 million, perhaps, in design options that could be fairly minimal or fairly elaborate, and that the board would also need to weigh in on what direction we want to take those,” Hollister said. In other words, voting to go beyond on the bond allows the design team to plan for big projects. Once they return to the board with specific price assessments for each project, the board can decide which projects they actually want to pursue.
Present at the meeting was TruexCullins architecture and design consultant David Epstein, who emphasized the importance of the motion. “What we are assuming is that this is the basis of the design work that you’re going to pursue. That is a very important affirmation that the board needs to understand, because if we’re throwing that out then the June bond vote is not possible. If this is not the basis of design, we have to revisit this whole thing again, and that resets the clock,” said Epstein.
The board hopes to hold a bond vote in June, and by affirming that they will do more than just the basic renovations at Harwood they are allowing design consultants like Epstein to start planning projects early enough to be ready for the June bond vote.
WHAT ABOUT CBMS?
Despite the board’s consensus in favor of the motion, one issue repeatedly emerged in the comments of the public and of the board members themselves. “What about Crossett Brook?” said a member of the public during public comment period. “If we move seventh- and eighth-graders there, and they come up with additional needs that total whatever you have planned plus another $15 million, are you locking yourself into doing enhancements by this motion even when you don’t know what the potential bond vote would be at Crossett Brook?”
Board member Jeremy Tretiak, Waitsfield, shared similar concerns about the bond in relation to the looming uncertainties surrounding the fate of the middle schools. “I think it’s important to get some of the Crossett guestimates in here, just because with larger numbers around Harwood, it might help us start narrowing things down. If we committed to moving seventh- and eighth-graders over, and a certain amount of money needed to be spent there, then we might be able to direct this work a little bit more clearly, earlier in the process rather than waiting to see that we have to take back things because we found out the number at Crossett is bigger than we expected. Maybe this is a time to propose an amendment to this motion to do work on Crossett Brook,” Tretiak said. Here, he suggested to the board that they figure out what changes need to be made at Crossett Brook before they agree to going beyond basics on the Harwood bond.
However, vice chair Torrey Smith, Duxbury, made it clear that this specific motion was not about the middle schools. “This only is about Harwood. You could make an amendment about Crossett, but it might be easier for us to pass it [the current motion] and see how we’re making progress,” said Smith.
DIRECT PROJECT TEAM
Hollister echoed Smith’s opinion in her subsequent comments. “What I was hopeful for was, if this motion passed, then we could have another motion to direct the project team to start doing this work at any of the relevant campuses,” said Hollister. “My suggestion for a next step would be a motion to direct the project team to develop programmatic recommendations to bring the board for Harwood and Crossett Brook.”
Board members liked Hollister’s proposed motion. “I want to lend my emphatic support for doing something similar for Crossett Brook and I want to have that in our next conversation,” said board member Maureen McCracken, Waterbury. Ultimately, the board decided to table Hollister’s proposed motion to develop programmatic recommendations to bring the board for Harwood and Crossett Brook. That item will be a priority at the next meeting on January 8.