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ANwSU towns to vote on $6.5M VUHS bond

VERGENNES — Residents of the five Addison Northwest Supervisory Union towns on Tuesday will decide whether to support a $6.5 million bond that will fund repairs and major upgrades to Vergennes Union High School.
The biggest ticket items are improvements to the school’s auditorium, installation of a track and an artificial turf playing field, upgrades to the kitchen and cafeteria, and roof repairs to several areas of the building.
Also included are some site improvements, work to level the floor of the school library and put new carpet on it, and new bleachers for the middle school gym.
ANwSU business manager Kathy Cannon has estimated 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 ANwSU towns.
Those figures translate to between $82 and $94 in additional annual taxes for a home assessed at $200,000, assuming its owners are not eligible for tax prebates. More than half of ANwSU homeowners were eligible for prebates according to the most recently available state data.
Cannon said her calculations do not take into account individual towns’ Common Levels of Appraisal (CLAs). Currently, most ANwSU towns’ assessments are near fair market value, and their CLAs are not pushing taxes higher.
School administrators and board members back the plan, noting the roof repairs must be done, that work to the auditorium is long overdue because that part of the school was omitted from the renovation and expansion project 12 years ago, that the track would not only serve the school’s teams but the community as well, and that the turf field would solve persistent problems with drainage and the existing varsity soccer and lacrosse field’s clay surface.
Public feedback has been hard to come by for school officials: Several well-publicized forums, meetings and tours have been sparsely attended.
At earlier meetings this fall some residents questioned whether additional bond payments in the budget might hamper funding for the school’s academic program. Others agreed with officials, and added that with limited school choice having been approved by Vermont lawmakers the upgrades could help VUHS retain and attract students.
 ANwSU Superintendent Tom O’Brien said among the few attendees at the more recent tours there has been “mixed reaction” to the athletic improvements, but a more positive attitude about the auditorium.
“Those that have been there have been supportive of the (theater) upgrades,” O’Brien said.
Residents have one more chance to learn more about the project from the VUHS board, if they act quickly: The board’s formal information meeting is set for this Thursday, Nov. 1, at 7 p.m. in the school library.
AUDITORIUM
The proposed auditorium work is the most expensive part of the project, 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 note that the auditorium’s stage surface and wiring is unsafe, that handicap accessibility and accommodations are inadequate, the lighting and performance rigging systems are poor, seats are 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.
FIELD AND TRACK
Athletic field improvements, without soft costs and contingencies, total $1.55 million.
They include $750,000 for a turf field, $600,000 for a track to surround that field, and $200,000 for related improvements.
Board members said high school tracks are typically popular among 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 a turf field.
In an email to Cannon and the Independent, Maneen also stated, “Athletes have lost significant field time and have had multiple changes to their schedules over the years due to poor field conditions.”
He cited several games that have been moved or canceled as well as “countless hours of practice time lost.” The moved contests included a 2005 playoff game and a 2012 girls’ soccer senior game, and Maneen said the school had to cancel the 2010 state soccer championships the day before VUHS was to host the event and cancel middle school soccer tournaments in 2010 and 2011.
Maneen also said the field sees heavy use, with more than 200 athletes on five school teams using it daily between the fall and spring season. Also, he said VUHS hosts club soccer teams, local youth and adult baseball teams, youth softball teams, a high school summer soccer league, many sports camps, and “many community events throughout the summer.”
An all-weather turf field would maximize playing time by eliminating rainouts, and also minimize wear and tear on the school’s grass fields by allowing them more recovery time.
Maneen also said he believes the field would save maintenance costs because it requires little ongoing care. He also said the field would allow VUHS to host more events and increase revenue for the school and local businesses.
KITCHEN, ROOF AND MORE
The plan calls for $748,000 plus soft costs and contingencies to upgrade the kitchen and cafeteria, which officials said 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 — the deteriorating roof and eaves on the original classroom wing and auditorium — carries a $454,000 price tag.
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, and reconfigure parking and the pickup area near the main entrance.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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