UD-3 residents back facilities work

MIDDLEBURY — Voters in the UD-3 school district on Feb. 23 agreed to spend $400,000 in a budget fund balance on various capital improvements to the Middlebury Union high school and middle school campuses, including replacing the Doc Collins football field lights.
School officials had envisioned the possibility that some voters might want to re-direct some of the capital improvement money toward reducing the property tax impact of the 2010-2011 UD-3 budget, a spending plan that called for a 2.8-percent increase in expenditures but a potential 9.5-percent hike in K-12 education property taxes.
But those in favor of the proposed capital improvements successfully argued that delaying the projects could cost taxpayers more in the long run.
“This is a difficult year, I realize,” said UD-3 board member Lucy Schumer, a member of the panel’s facilities committee. “But the facilities committee felt a responsibility to put forward these projects anyway, for a couple of reasons.”
“The economic circumstances aren’t getting better in the next two or three years,” board member William O’Neill agreed. “And our ability to pay for these kinds of things isn’t going to get any easier.”
Schumer said the UD-3 board must, among other things, serve as good stewards of district facilities. She said the board has, in recent years, put off some maintenance projects in an effort to save money, and also because there has been inadequate fund balance to apply to such work. That has led to some deterioration and an inflationary rise in repair costs, she said.
Schumer also noted that the district recently received, from the state, a $280,000 reimbursement for an MUHS elevator project performed three years ago. She said it made sense to the board to spend that reimbursement (as part of the fund balance) on capital projects.
The combined total of $400,000 in improvements approved by a rounding voice vote by the more than 30 voters at the Feb. 23 annual UD-3 meeting included:
• Replacing the circular entrance in front of the MUHS building, estimated at $240,000. The current, deteriorated circle entrance has resulted in some people tripping, injuring themselves, and filing workers’ compensation claims amounting to $35,000 against the district, according to Schumer. Plans call for the circle area to be re-paved, with the curbing slightly re-designed to allow for more sidewalk and safe standing area for students waiting for buses.
• Re-roofing the woodshop and locker room at MUHS, estimated at $36,000. The current roof is leaking, with buckets now used to catch water drops from the ceiling.
• Replacing the Doc Collins football field lights, estimated at $80,000, with a match from the Friends of Middlebury Football. The current lights are about 25 years old. The crossbars holding up the lights in place are rotting to a point where officials fear they could fall, potentially hitting someone below during a game.
• Insulating mechanical rooms and attic duct work at MUMS, pegged at $44,000. Schumer said that MUMS was built 10 years ago on a tight budget that did not provide for as much insulation as would have been ideal. As a result, she said MUMS has been leaking heat, thereby costing taxpayers money.
“This is the first and most necessary project to start getting that building to be more energy efficient and, in the long run, cost less to heat and ventilate,” Schumer said.
The district has roughly $112,000 in fund balance left over after earmarking $400,000 toward the capital improvements. That money will now automatically be applied toward reducing the tax impact of the 2010-2011 UD-3 budget of $15,530,470 approved on Tuesday by a 1,070 to 981 margin.
School directors had considered applying more — or even all — of the fund balance toward stabilizing school property taxes. But officials decided such a move could create major budget problems in budgeting for the 2011-2012 school year if a similar, $512,000 surplus is not available to stabilize that spending plan.
John Flowers is at [email protected].

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