VUHS to discuss potential $5M upgrade

NOTE: This story has been updated to correct the date of the VUHS board meeting.
VERGENNES — The Vergennes Union High School board hopes to hear from the public on Monday, July 9, its opinions on a bond that could be floated as soon as November and might approach $5 million if all elements now being discussed are included.
In the past six weeks, according to Addison Northwest Supervisory Union business manager Kathy Cannon, school officials have begun leaning toward asking for two elements that were in early May less likely.
One element is a more extensive renovation of the school’s auditorium that Cannon said in an email “now considers a control room and partial excavation below the stage for the orchestra.” Cannon notes that the current pit is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, nor is the “current slope of (the) auditorium,” which also lacks ADA-compliant seating.
Cannon, who was at a conference on Tuesday and Wednesday, did not have a price tag immediately available for those changes, but said cost information would be available at the VUHS board meeting on July 9. The board will sit down and go over figures at 6 p.m. in the VUHS library, and then open up the meeting for public comment at 7 p.m., she said.
The second major element now being included for consideration is a major upgrade to the school’s varsity soccer and lacrosse field that would include a track circling it for the first time, plus an artificial surface for the field. The work would also be intended to resolve persistent drainage problems, officials said.
In early May, ANwSU officials said the estimates for the track came in at $530,000, the turf for the field at $720,000, and lights for the project at another $64,000.
Cannon said the VUHS music and athletic program heads are expected to attend Monday’s meeting to explain the needs for the improvements.
The project started with a base $2 million estimate discussed by Cannon and ANwSU Superintendent Tom O’Brien in an interview with the Independent in May. Those funds were intended to pay for a long list of what they called long-term building needs and “health and safety” items.
That list includes new roofing, insulation and related work to the classroom wing, auditorium and middle school gym; heating and ventilation upgrades to the auditorium and possibly the cafeteria; wiring upgrades to the kitchen and auditorium; and possibly new kitchen equipment.
The officials then turned their attention to what they called at that point “a wish list” of other improvements that could be included and were developed by the VUHS board, ANwSU administrators, school officials, music and athletic program heads, and architects.
 O’Brien and Cannon at that point said some items on the list had higher priorities than others, and Cannon said this week proposals for a new outbuilding and new classroom floor coverings have been dropped.
Many items on that list focus on the auditorium, which they said was left behind during the school’s major 1999 renovation and expansion due to their cost.
As well as the wiring, air handling, orchestra pit and ADA-driven improvements, officials are considering whether to ask for upgrades to the theater’s sound, lighting and performance rigging systems.
In recent years, VUHS has faced pressure to control its budget in the face of declining enrollments, and state funding is still tied to the number of students in a school. In recent years the school has worked hard to avoid personnel and program cuts in its budgets.
Currently, payments on the 1999 project are adding about 10 cents a year to ANwSU towns’ school tax rates, before adjustments for common levels of appraisals and will do so until 2021.
Cannon said if, for example, ANwSU voters backed a $3.5 million project next March, by 2014 another about 4.5 cents would be added to tax rates.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindepend

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