According to Harwood Unified Union School District Board chair, after a lengthy board discussion about how to present district voters with a bond, the board may now consider presenting voters with a ballot that offers various levels of the bond. At a Zoom Q&A with local media on September 9, board chair Torrey Smith said the school board needs to determine whether they will put a full bond of $59.5 million before voters in November or some other options. That decision will be determined by the board meeting on September 15.
The school board met on September 8 to discuss the results of a community-wide survey on a proposed $59.5 million bond and to plan to vote on whether to advance the bond next week. The last chance to voice opinions on the bond is HUUSD’s September 15 meeting at 6 p.m. at Harwood Union High School (it will be also available via Zoom and YouTube). The September 8 meeting is available on the school board’s YouTube channel.
At this week’s meeting two coaches spoke about the need for a second gym at Harwood Union to accommodate student athletes and PE schedules. “We are in drastic need for gym infrastructure in our district,” said Harwood varsity boys’ basketball coach Jay Bellows. He said the current single gym is at full capacity and some practices end at 10 p.m. on school nights. Community support for a second gym was split, according to the survey with 29.9% of 552 respondents saying the new gym would make them much less likely to support a bond, while 26.6% said it would make them much more likely to support a bond. One survey respondent said, “The gym is little hard to swallow given the number of students at the school. Are there other athletic facilities that can be used nearby for students?” While another said, “We need a second gym so badly!” Student board representative Maisie Franke said, “I think a second gym is completely needed. From a student’s perspective, this all seems so crucial.” The cost of building a second gym would be $5.7 million, costing taxpayers who own a $350,000 house an additional $65 a year for the 20-year life of the bond.
The full $59.5 million bond would cost taxpayers who own a $350,000 house an additional $611 a year in taxes for 20 years. Tax increases would take effect in 1.5 to 2 years. Many survey respondents expressed frustration at the prospect of raising taxes with 25.1% of 554 respondents saying they would not support a bond at any level while 30.5% said they support the full $59.5 million bond. Thirteen percent said they would support a bond of $40 million, 15.7% said they’d support a bond of $50 million and 15.7% said they’d support a bond of $70 million. The full survey results are available at huusd.org.
The bond covers compliance and repairs to the Harwood Union building, efficiencies and improvements, 21st-century educational alignment and additions to Crossett Brook Middle School to accommodate moving Harwood seventh and eighth graders to the building.
The compliance and repairs include HVAC improvements, plumbing, electric, internet, safety and security, stormwater management, vehicle storage and new science labs. The Harwood building was built in 1965 and is outdated and in need of repairs. The projected cost for the compliance and repairs is $21.9 million. “I think we have a great opportunity with this bond to move forward with these repairs. I certainly would be in support of all of this,” board member Jeremy Tretiak, Waitsfield, said. Several other board members echoed their support for the repairs.
The proposed efficiencies and improvements to the Harwood building include replacing windows, adding insulation, replacing fluorescent lighting, adding dehumidifying and moving the central office to Harwood. These upgrades would cost $14.3 million. Board member Lisa Mason, Moretown, asked whether they could ensure the renovated building would be as green and energy-efficient as possible. Waterbury resident Duncan McDougall of Waterbury Local Energy Action Plan (LEAP) urged board members to include solar panels on the new roof of Harwood. LEAP was instrumental in adding solar panels to Crossett Brook Middle School. Architect David Epstein of TruexCullins said that, while the renovated building will be energy-efficient, the plans for the building do not include lead certification. He said that the board could decide to do a lead-certified building, but that it would come with hefty administrative costs. In a meeting with The Valley Reporter and Waterbury Roundabout, board chair Torrey Smith said that replacing windows and adding insulation will make the building “greener” and save nearly $50,000/year on energy costs. “If the community wants, we could go further,” she said. “We’re always trying to straddle that line between wanting things to be better and keeping it affordable. Maybe we’ll hear from the community that making the building greener is a priority.”
The education alignment projects would add collaborative learning spaces, including a STEM hub, humanities hub and a ninth-grade learning space. “We are still in the very early stages of figuring out what this could look like,” Harwood co-principal Meg McDonough said. The goals are to increase collaboration in interdisciplinary work and make the spaces accessible for all students. The educational alignments also include an enhanced wellness space, the second gym and a new track. “Currently, we do not have a usable track where other schools will come to,” McDonough said. The projected cost for these alignments in $17.2 million.
Board member Cindy Senning, Duxbury, said, “I could support both the gym and track, but I’m concerned about the price tag being so big that the whole thing goes down.”
Finally, the bond includes $6 million for expanding Crossett Brook Middle School to accommodate an additional 100 students and 15 staff, including new community gathering spaces, increased parking and additional core team space. Thirty percent of 553 survey respondents said they would be much less likely to support the bond if community gathering and learning spaces are included, while 27.3% said the new spaces would make them much more likely to support the bond.
The board also discussed the need for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) testing and the timing of the testing, which could impact the renovated building. These chemicals were commonly used at the time the Harwood building was constructed in 1965. According to facilities director Ray Daigle, the state of Vermont will pay for air testing, but not bulk materials testing. He said the cost of the first round of testing for bulk materials is about $8,600, and the results could lead to needing more testing. “We can quickly spend a lot of money on testing,” he said. Board member Scott Culver, Waterbury, who has a background in construction, expressed concern about doing work on the building before it has been tested for PCBs.
The board approved an engagement plan that includes creating an educational video about the bond and hosting Q&As over Zoom prior to voting in November. At the September 15 meeting, the board will determine the scope of the bond to go before voters in November.