Forum on two-tiered VUHS bond vote set

VERGENNES — Addison Northwest Supervisory Union residents on Thursday, Jan. 31, will have a chance to ask Vergennes Union High School board members about the upcoming two-tiered vote on whether to fund upgrades the VUHS building and grounds.
The board will hold a 7 p.m. forum at VUHS on that Thursday to present information and allow for questions on the two bonds that residents will decide the fate of on Feb. 5. There will be a walk through of the building areas to be renovated and/or upgraded at 6 p.m.
In December, the VUHS board approved for voter consideration on Feb. 5 a $4.2 million plan that would fund building repairs and upgrades, most notably new roofing in some areas; major improvements to the school’s auditorium, kitchen and cafeteria; and bleachers in the middle school gym.  
That $4.2 million bond would also pay for a new sidewalk at the eastern entrance, repair to the existing western sidewalk, reconfiguration of the pick-up and drop-off area at the school’s main entrance, and repaving of the western parking lot.
A separate Feb. 5 ballot item will ask that if — and only if — voters back the $4.2 million bond, would residents also support an additional $2 million for artificial turf on the varsity soccer and lacrosse field and a six-lane track to surround it.
Together, those items, minus about $300,000 in cuts, are essentially identical to the bond voted down on Nov. 6, by a tally of 2,244-1,653.  
ANwSU business manager Kathy Cannon released estimates for the impact of $4.2 million and $6.2 million bonds on the five district communities. Cannon noted she could only base those estimates on 2013 spending and grand list data in emphasizing their approximate nature.
She also said that individual towns’ Common Levels of Appraisal (CLAs) would move the numbers up or down, but only slightly because towns’ assessments are close to 100 percent. 
For a $4.2 million bond, approval could mean a range of increases from about $27 per $100,000 of assessed value in Vergennes to roughly $30 per $100,000 of assessed value in Addison.
An approved $6.2 million bond would mean increases that could range from a little less than $40 per $100,000 of value in Vergennes to a little more than $44 per $100,000 of value in Addison.
Officials said said they scheduled the vote in February because if they had waited until Town Meeting Day it would have been difficult to line up contractors to get work started by this summer.  
The changes made to the original plan to save $300,000 include removing a skylight; adjusting plans for performance-enhancing improvements in the auditorium, such as lighting and sound rigging equipment; making some cuts in kitchen equipment; and taking out plans to level the floor of the library and install new carpeting there.
The project to be funded includes major work in the auditorium, which officials said was left behind in the most recent school-wide expansion and upgrade. The effort there will include improvements to its wiring, ventilation systems, lighting and sound systems, storage, stage surface (which teachers said is dangerously slippery), orchestra pit, as well as replacement of all its seats, and addition of the control room, catwalks, and handicap-accessible seating and entries.
Board members did in December consider changes proposed by project architects in the auditorium work that could have lowered the cost to $3.7 million, but chairwoman Kristin Bristow said they were not sure of the viability of the proposed changes.
The school now rents lights and other equipment for plays, but not for concerts and theater classes, Bristow said, and the new equipment would serve both.
Officials said the school’s kitchen and cafeteria have gone essentially untouched since VUHS was built five decades ago.
The $4.2 million bond would fund new equipment; an exterior walk-in cooler; new wiring, lighting and ventilation; air conditioning in the cafeteria; new doors and flooring; a skylight; 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 is the deteriorating roof and eaves on the original classroom wing and auditorium, and that work is also included in the $4.2 million.
The additional $2 million would buy the turf field and track and related improvements. Board members have 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 said team numbers have dropped because of the lack of a track.
Officials said many games have been moved and practices lost due to weather problems that a turf field would solve, that maintenance would be cheaper on a turf field, and that a turf field would allow VUHS to continue to serve the many Vergennes-area youth and adult programs that use the school’s facilities.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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