The Harwood Unified Union School Board (HUUSD) will hear three different bond proposals for the Harwood renovation project at its next meeting.
After a January 23 meeting of the board’s executive facilities committee (EFC), committee member and Waterbury representative Alex Thomsen suggested the committee present three different models to the full HUUSD board on February 13. One option will show a bare-bones bond, fixing the necessities; the next will include input on necessities and wants from the Harwood administration; and, finally, a “pie in the sky” proposal with the sky as the limit will be presented. The idea behind this is to show all options and cost/savings for each.
District Superintendent Brigid Nease discussed comparing the HUUSD districts bond to others of Burlington High School, South Burlington High School and Stowe who are all facing higher bonds to bring their buildings to code. Nease made the analogy that the district can’t afford itself and some taxpayers are living paycheck to paycheck. She said that voters and administration sometimes want to buy a Maserati when the district struggles to afford a Toyota.
The HUUSD board voted down the four middle school options in October 2018. Since then the EFC has been meeting regularly to weigh out alternative approaches to the pending bond. The Harwood bond will bring Harwood up to code through work on windows, HVAC science labs, and the roof. It is projected to be around $20 million. The board hopes to bring the bond before voters this June.
The EFC committee hopes that the existing Harwood Union Middle School (HUMS) space of 21,284 square feet could be repurposed for a STEM center or humanities department. Nease previously reported that HUMS was 31,000 square feet and she used that square footage to project potential savings of $6 million to $9 million if all HUMS students are sent to Crossett Brook Middle School (CBMS). The idea to send HUMS student into CBMS was brought up at the prior HUUSD meeting on January 16.
The EFC committee includes HUUSD board members, administrators, Bert DeLaBruere of ReArch and Dave Epstein of TruexCullins. At the committee’s recent January 23 meeting, members discussed the fact that if HUMS students were at CBMS this fall, construction at Harwood could start this summer.
EFC committee members assured the board that this wasn’t a back-door attempt to combine students. Superintendent Nease shared with the board a back-of-the-napkin plan that would house all grade seven and eight students at CBMS along with the existing fifth and sixth grades from Waterbury/Duxbury while saving the district $800,000 to $1 million annually through operational costs and teacher cuts and up to an additional $12 million due to not having to build new space at Harwood (and instead renovate the middle school space) as well as potentially saving the cost of renovating CBMS to accommodate all seventh- and eighth-graders in the district.
Nease informed the school board that there are four classrooms currently that could be used to house all middle school students. At the January 23 EFC meeting, Nease added that with the declining enrollment in the district, two more classrooms within a few years would also become available. CBMS, as Nease noted, is under-capacitated as is. If the HUMS students went to CBMS next fall, they could fit in as is without a renovation.
The board also heard constructive input from past board member Peter Langella, who tried a different style of getting the board’s attention.
Langella discussed district design work around the concept of universal design. Langella made claims to making the district hiring process more diverse, seeking out candidates from all over the country, and that the board should advocate for the district at the state level so the district isn’t penalized for early college students. He also advised advocating for implementing child care programs in elementary schools to help working families.
“You don’t have a mandate to cut anything. You do have a mandate to do what’s best for our children,” said Langella in a letter to the board.