Waitsfield Elementary School is the only school in the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) without a commercial kitchen. At its March 22 meeting, the school board voted 9-2 (with one member abstaining and one absent) to approve Farrington Construction Company’s bid to construct a new kitchen at the school to the tune of $879,318. Finance director Lisa Estler explained that that bid, which was the only one the district received for the project, is for construction and, with the added cost of contingencies, engineering and design, the project would actually cost $1,045,849. The funds will come from the maintenance reserve fund.
Currently, meals for the 170 students at Waitsfield Elementary are prepared in the Fayston Elementary School kitchen, transported to Waitsfield, then the dirty dishes are transported back to Fayston. With the new kitchen at Waitsfield, meals for both schools would be made at the larger school (Fayston has approximately 70 students) and dishes could be done at Fayston, as that school does have a dishwasher.
Farrington’s bid states that the project, which would include “renovation of kitchen, including structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing, mop sink replacement in nearby janitor closet and washer/dryer connection in nearby storage closet,” would be completed by August 18, 2023.
Prior to the meeting, community members received a board packet with a leadership report in which detailed the new costs of the project and recommended that it be postponed due to the cost. That report led to a Waterbury Roundabout story which garnered interest in the issue and resulted in emails from community members.
The board received a number of emails from local residents regarding the proposed project. The comments to the entire board included concerns that the board may delay the project, which board leadership had recommended in its leadership report ahead of this week’s meeting. One resident wrote, “I am disappointed to learn that you are considering postponing a highly needed upgrade to Waitsfield Elementary School's kitchen. With around 170 students, it is shocking that the school does not have a working kitchen. This a long overdue upgrade. I understand that the cost of renovations is holding you back; however, costs are not going to go down. This is a necessary change that will require more taxpayer dollars in the future, as there is no indication that construction costs will be coming down any time in the future. Meanwhile, other work, particularly plans to accommodate construction have occurred - this is lost time and effort by HUUSD if construction does not go forward.”
In an email to the board, Waitsfield Elementary School principal Kaiya Korb wrote, “I am concerned about the hygiene, efficiency and sustainability of our current food service with the facility we have. This project has been delayed for years, as we waited during consolidation into one district, and then for the "dust to settle" as the unified district considered long-range plans, and through a pandemic. I appreciate very much balancing the overall needs of the district -- and I respectfully ask that the board consider, if now is not the right time for this project, when and under what conditions will it be the right time?”
At the March 22 meeting, Fayston school board representative Mike Bishop said, “I’m not against the project but I’m against it right now,” noting that there are other maintenance projects needed that may be higher priorities to the district. “I’m for pausing it, reevaluating, and seeing if we could get other contractors to bid. I don’t think it’s the right time.”
Newly elected Waitsfield representative J.B. Weir, a parent of Waitsfield Elementary students, called the current kitchen “far from adequate” and said, “It seems to me this is long overdue.” Waterbury board representative Jake Pitman added, “It’s time; let’s do it.”
The vote passed overwhelmingly. The project will begin this summer.