VUHS board to decide on bond at Dec. 10 meeting

VERGENNES — The Vergennes Union High School board will meet on Dec. 10 to create a new bond proposal for voter approval, said board chairwoman Kristin Bristow on Wednesday.
Bristow spoke the morning after the board met for two hours in front of about 10 residents to discuss its options after its initial $6.5 million proposal to pay for needed repairs and major upgrades to the school and grounds lost on Election Day, by a tally of 2,244-1,653.
That money would have funded a plan that included improvements to the school’s auditorium, installation of a six-lane track and an artificial turf playing field, upgrades to its kitchen and cafeteria, roof repairs to several areas of the building, and parking, sidewalk and traffic-flow improvements.
Bristow said two hours of discussion at the board’s Nov. 20 meeting in the school library produced no consensus on what to cut or how big a bond to request from Addison Northwest Supervisory Union voters at the next vote.
“We went round and round because we’re not sure where we want to go,” Bristow said. “We’re not 100 percent sure how it’s going to look.”
Opinions were also mixed among those who showed up to speak to the board.
“There were so many different views,” Bristow said.
Board members and school administrators do agree that roof repairs; overdue kitchen and cafeteria updates; wiring, ventilation and other safety issues in the auditorium; bleacher replacement in the middle school gym; and the site work around the school should all be taken care of, Bristow said.
The tougher decisions, she said, are whether to remove either the $750,000 track or the $500,000 turf field — or both —from the next bond proposal, and to determine whether it is possible or even desirable to take out some of the performance-enhancement elements from the nearly $2 million of auditorium upgrades.
Proponents of the track have said the school’s track and field team now has nowhere to practice and that local residents could also use it. Backers of a turf field have said not only do VUHS students use the current grass field, which has major drainage and surface problems, but also many community youth programs.
Bristow said auditorium issues are more complex, and that it is not clear what elements can easily be cut: Once necessary safety work begins, for example, she said handicap-access requirements may kick in that require replacing all the theater’s already dated seating.
She also said some believe that lighting and sound improvements can be done at a lesser cost; the current plan calls for catwalks and a raised control room at the rear of the auditorium. The school now rents lights and other equipment for plays, but not for concerts and theater classes, Bristow said.
Also to be decided by the board is whether to have one vote with all elements to be paid for, or offer ANwSU residents a menu of options.
“It was discussed … Some of us feel that if we do that some people will think the second part is not as important and that people will vote against it,” Bristow said. “And some people say voters could pick and choose.”
Timing of the next vote also remains an issue to be decided at a meeting that will start at 6 p.m. in the VUHS library on Monday, Dec. 10.
“Hopefully, before Town Meeting Day, but we’re not sure,” Bristow said. “But at any rate on Dec. 10 we have to make a decision.”
Before then, board members hope to hear from as many residents as possible, and also will actively be seeking feedback.
“It’s very hard to please everybody, and we’re just doing the best we can,” she said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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