In the midst of a tumultuous climate regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and the failed school budget, the school board is moving ahead with work on the districtwide bond – for the Harwood campus at least. At the board meeting on March 12, the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board authorized the project team to develop designs for the Harwood portion of the bond. The design work may cost up to $25,000.
Prior to the March 12 meeting, David Epstein and his team from the design firm TruexCullins toured all seven school district campuses, developed diagrams and made cost estimates of the work that needed to be done at each school. Thatcher Brook Primary School needs a new cafeteria and kitchen. Crossett Brook Middle School, depending on the merger, needs more classrooms and parking. Waitsfield Elementary School needs a bigger kitchen. Other Valley elementary schools need new floors and carpeting. Harwood Union High School is the biggest fixer-upper of all: It needs a new roof, a general maintenance makeover, HVAC work and a science lab renovation.
“What would it cost to keep Harwood the way it is?” asked Waterbury school board representative James Grace, considering the fact the the school board is now leaning away from a 2020 middle school consolidation.
“If the middle school stayed … instead of being $50 per square foot it might be $100. So it’s not a huge delta,” replied Epstein. “To accommodate all of these features, we have to build an addition onto Harwood. It’s not the easiest building to add to because of the wetlands around it. When we looked at accommodating programs at Harwood and keeping the middle school here, it required an addition that was more costly than doing an addition at Crossett Brook.”
Despite the increased costs associated with keeping the Harwood Union Middle School students at Harwood during the renovation, board members were eager to approve design work at the high school, the least code compliant of all seven schools. “I believe this is an area where we have an abundance of information, and if we’re not saying that any of our other schools sit in the same category as code and safety incompliant for our students, then we owe it to the community to focus on bringing a number forward for this school, this building, to make it as it should be: a modern building,” said Fayston school board representative Tim Jones.
Waitsfield school board representative Christine Sullivan also argued in favor of taking immediate action on renovating the high school. “This project has been on hold since FY15. The roof leaks when these kids are in their classrooms during the day. That’s not OK. We need to start moving things forward and doing things for the kids in the high school. The historic issue in this district is that we’ve overinvested in our elementary schools and neglected our high school. It’s time to get on it,” said Sullivan.
On the vote to authorize the project team to develop designs for the Harwood portion of the bond, 11 school board members voted yes, one voted no, and one abstained, bringing the weighted total to 75.05 percent in favor of and 9.85 percent against starting design work at Harwood.