The discussion of a bond for repairs and upgrades in the Harwood Union Unified School District (HUUSD) is nothing new. Bond discussions have been happening since at least 2015, prior to the HUUSD consolidation, though the issue was tabled in 2020 due to the pandemic. On August 3, the school board’s community engagement committee brainstormed outreach strategies, such as a community survey to gauge support and priorities for a bond to address various facility issues in local schools.
“The board has agreed significant repairs are needed and that need has increased in the past several years,” Caitlin Hollister, Waterbury, said. The committee identified several potential uses for a bond of roughly $50-55 million, including educational improvements, compliance and essential repairs, increased efficiencies and consolidating the middle school at Crossett Brook Middle School’s facilities.
Board chair Torrey Smith, Duxbury, said, “We can’t really delay this any further.” Board member Christine Sullivan, Waitsfield, added, “We need to bring everything up to code,” citing Harwood Union High School science labs that are not compliant with health and safety standards. Smith called the potential upgrades “a collection of educational improvements to move us from the 1960s to the 2020s.” That may include building new science labs, updating the gym and track at Harwood and creating a learning hub in the front hall of the school. The committee is seeking community input on priorities for such improvements.
Electronic surveys will be available, in addition to hard copy surveys, at town offices, libraries and other community spaces. There was also discussion about creating a video to show the community the need for a bond and conducting targeted outreach to groups like rotary clubs and other community groups this fall, as well as hosting community discussions in October.
The committee’s survey and outreach plan will be voted on by the full school board later this month. The board has set an ambitious schedule to determine exactly what the bond will cover when it meets this month, with a plan to have the warning for a November bond vote approved at its September 15 meeting. If a bond is approved this fall the district hopes to bid the project next winter and start construction next spring. If the bond is not voted this fall, or fails, that means a Town Meeting vote next March which would likely mean a 2023 start date.
Further complicating the issue is the fact that all Vermont schools will be tested for PCBs, thanks to a bill passed this session by the Vermont Legislature. Without knowing levels of PCBs at Harwood Union, it may not make sense to move forward with a bond. HUUSD facilities director Ray Daigle has reached out to the Vermont Department of Health, testing companies and other resources for information and guidance on moving forward, according to HUUSD finance director Michelle Baker.