Vote on $6.5 bond for VUHS facilities set for Nov. 6

VERGENNES — The Vergennes Union High School board on Tuesday made final its decision to ask voters on Nov. 6 for approval of a $6.5 million bond to fund major repairs and upgrades to the school’s building and site.
Board members said limited feedback since their initial Sept. 25 decision to ask for the project has been largely favorable.
“It’s been more positive than negative,” said board chairwoman Kristin Bristow.
At Tuesday’s meeting only four non-board members attended, three of them school employees, as public comment remained elusive.
The most notable components of the proposed project include fixing leaky roofing on the classroom wing; making major improvements and safety upgrades to the school’s auditorium, kitchen and cafeteria; and installing artificial turf on the school’s varsity soccer and lacrosse field and surrounding it with a track.
Addison Northwest Supervisory Union officials said the project, if approved by voters on Election Day, would add between $41 and $47 in annual property taxes per $100,000 of assessed home value in the five ANwSU towns: Vergennes, Ferrisburgh, Addison, Panton and Waltham.
Those figures translate to $82 and $94 in additional annual taxes for a home assessed at $200,000, assuming its owners are not eligible for tax prebates. Most ANwSU taxpayers receive prebates.
Those calculations do not take into account individual towns’ Common Levels of Appraisal (CLAs). But most ANwSU towns’ assessments are near fair market value, and their CLAs are not now pushing tax rates higher.
Board members and VUHS officials hope more members of the public will come and learn about the specifics at a series of open houses set for Oct. 16, 18, 23 and 25. All will start with presentations in the VUHS library at 6:30 p.m., and continue with tours of the interior areas of the school that officials said need repairs, safety improvements, and/or upgrades.
An official information meeting is set for Nov. 1 at 7 p.m., also in the library.
On Saturday, Oct. 27 at 10 a.m., officials will offer a tour of the field and track area. On Wednesday of this week, a varsity girls’ soccer game was moved to Enosburg because of standing water on the VUHS field.
If ANwSU residents back the plan, Bristow said work could begin next summer.
“We have real needs that we have to get going on as soon as possible,” she said.  
The biggest ticket item is the auditorium, estimated at $1.944 million. Like the costs dedicated to each part of the project, that figure is subject to a further 30 percent bump for “soft costs and contingencies,” including architectural and engineering fees, permits, change orders and unforeseen circumstances.
Board members and school officials noted that the auditorium was left behind in the most recent school-wide renovation in 2000, that the stage surface and wiring is unsafe, the handicap accessibility and accommodations are inadequate, the lighting and performance rigging systems are poor, the seating is nearly worn out, the orchestra pit is too small, storage is inadequate, the roof structure is weak, and air handling is non-existent.
The project would add a raised control room at the rear of the room; repair its roof; add air handling; install catwalks along both walls and one over the seats; create handicap seating and a handicap entrance; replace all 550 seats; install new lighting, sound and rigging systems; replace and upgrade wiring; build a new orchestra pit and add storage; add new carpet, paint and a stage curtain; replace the stage surface; and upgrade the entries to the theater.
Officials hope the final costs for some elements, including the sound and lighting and rigging systems, will drop. 
Athletic field improvements, without soft costs and contingencies, are pegged at $1.55 million.
They include $750,000 for an artificial turf field, $600,000 for a six-lane track to surround that field, and $200,000 for related improvements.
Board members said high school tracks, including at Champlain Valley Union High School, are popular for community members looking to exercise. 
VUHS has a track team that now practices without a track, and the school no longer pays to send the team to use the Middlebury College facility. VUHS Activities Director Peter Maneen told the board team numbers have dropped because of the lack of a track.
Maneen also said a new grass field to replace the current clay-surfaced field, which has drainage and other problems, would cost $500,000 and require more maintenance than the turf field.
Maneen noted that many community youth organizations use VUHS as a home base, and a turf field would hold up better under the heavy use.
The plan calls for $748,000 plus soft costs and contingencies to upgrade the kitchen and cafeteria, which has gone essentially untouched since VUHS was built five decades ago.
That money would buy new equipment; an exterior walk-in cooler; new wiring, lighting and ventilation; air conditioning in the cafeteria; new doors and flooring; skylights; fire protection upgrades; storage; and plumbing and drains.
It would also reconfigure the cafeteria service area and make sure it met handicap-accessibility laws.
The issue that first triggered talk of a bond was the deteriorating roof and eaves on the original classroom wing and auditorium, with an estimated $454,000 price tag.
With smaller estimates, the plan would also add a new sidewalk running to Monkton Road from the school’s east entrance and repair the west sidewalk, repave the west parking lot, reconfigure parking and the pickup area near the main entrance, replace bleachers in the middle school gym, and level the floor and replace the carpeting in the school’s library/media center.
The board last week cut out a $125,000 line item for solar panels on the school roof, but hopes that cost savings, especially in the auditorium and general contingencies, might allow the panels to be included in the final project.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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