VUHS board to seek feedback before new bond

VERGENNES — After two failed bond votes, the Vergennes Union High School board will seek more feedback from the public before putting up another bond proposal for voter approval, its chairwoman said on Tuesday.
The board met on Monday night for the first time since its two-tiered proposal was defeated on Feb. 5.
A $4.2 million plan for renovations to the auditorium and kitchen/cafeteria, new roofing that officials said is badly needed, new bleachers for the middle school gym, and parking and sidewalk improvements failed, 820-671, or 55-45 percent.
At the same time, a second $2 million bond proposal lost, 1,107-376, or 74.6-25.4 percent. It would have funded an artificial surface for the school’s varsity soccer/lacrosse field and a six-lane track to surround it.
On Election Day this past November, a $6.5 million plan that would have included all that work and a few other elements failed, 2,244-1,653.
Board chairwoman Kris Bristow said board members believed the message they received from the public after the first vote was that the track and field were not as popular as the rest of the project, and therefore they created the two-tier vote for Feb. 5.
“We felt that we had listened to the feedback we got after the first vote, but apparently it wasn’t enough,” Bristow said.
She acknowledged that the board listened on Monday to one resident who urged further cuts and said that message was already clear, and that the board had received a letter to that effect from another resident.
But the board wants to hear from a more representative sample before making another move. Bristow said members would welcome emails, letters and phone calls, and especially visitors at the school’s annual meeting, to be held in the VUHS library at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 26.
“The plan is to get feedback in the next few weeks and have a productive discussion if we can at the annual meeting,” Bristow said.
A central question, she said, is where do safety and health concerns end and where do elements some believe might be completely necessary — such as an enclosed control room and catwalks in the auditorium, which has not been updated in decades — begin.
“It’s hard to explain what is the extra stuff,” Bristow said.
Addison Northwest Supervisory Union Superintendent Tom O’Brien said there are some issues about which there is no debate: Officials said the roofing must be done, the auditorium’s wiring is unsafe, the heating and ventilation in the kitchen/cafeteria and auditorium is substandard, the auditorium stage surface is slippery, and much of the kitchen equipment is at or near the end of its useful life.
“Those issues that are directly related to health and safety are priorities,” O’Brien said.
Work in the auditorium could get also expensive quickly because it does not meet Americans with Disabilities Act code, the provisions of which would be triggered by any extensive effort there.
O’Brien suggested the board go back to a project outline initially provided by architects, which outlined the different project elements and their costs and necessity and “use that as a worksheet and go back to the conversation on every item in conjunction with feedback from the community.”
He agreed that could be a time-consuming process, but O’Brien said it is important that a bond be passed to take care of the building’s pressing needs — which officials agree initially triggered bond discussions.
“Not doing anything is not an option,” he said.
Bristow, who will be stepping down from the board in March after a decade-and-a-half of service, said what will be a new-look board might take its time in making a new proposal.
“We don’t want to rush into anything and make more mistakes,” she said. “We want to listen to the public, and we thought we did.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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