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ANwSU residents to vote on $600,000 VUHS roof loan

VERGENNES — Addison Northwest Supervisory Union voters on Tuesday will decide whether to support a proposal put forth by the Vergennes Union High School board for a five-year, $600,000 loan to put a new roof on the school’s leaky classroom wing and auditorium.
If voters back the $600,000 loan, payments would add about $10 of annual taxes per $100,000 of assessed home value, according to an estimate offered in April by ANwSU business manager Kathy Cannon. Those who are eligible for prebates would not pay the full amount of that increase.
That estimate does not take into account any adjustments for towns’ common levels of appraisals (CLAs), but Cannon said the CLAs in ANwSU towns will not move the number much.
In Vergennes, balloting will coincide with a vote on a $1.45 million bond to build a new North Main Street police station; see related story.
Polls will be open in Vergennes from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., in Addison and Ferrisburgh from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., in Panton from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m., and in Waltham from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m.
When they adopted their $600,000 proposal in mid-April, VUHS board members said they would probably this fall put forward another bond proposal.
That bond — possibly in the $2 million range — would probably at least fund an upgrade to the school’s aging kitchen and cafeteria, which feature equipment dating back to the school’s construction more than 50 years ago; replacement of its auditorium’s failing heating and ventilation system; and site improvements they also called critical, including stopping water infiltration.
That expected bond plan would also include more favorable long-term funding for the roofing work to replace the short-term funding called for in next week’s proposal.
The question of why the board decided this spring to focus solely on the roofing came up at a sparsely attended informational meeting at VUHS on Monday, according to board chairman Donald Jochum.
Jochum said VUHS board members first decided the roofing is leaking badly and causing more damage to other building elements, and thus was the most crucial of the work that needs to be done.
In choosing the $600,000 loan option for a May vote, Jochum said the board did not want to risk another defeat of a larger bond, and thus a potential delay in the roofing project.
There was also a legal question of whether a $2 million bond vote would be too similar to two earlier bond proposals that ANwSU voters defeated. State law bans boards and communities from asking for a third bond vote on the same issue in a 12-month period.
Jochum said that board members believed a $2 million proposal that did not include many elements from earlier, larger proposals would have been legal, and the board obtained a legal opinion that backed that position.
But Jochum said the board did not want to risk a legal challenge that would delay the badly needed roofing work, nor did the board want to take a chance on having to “spend taxpayers’ money” defending its position.
This past November, the board’s $6.5 million proposal that included the roofing work, exterior improvements, major auditorium and kitchen and cafeteria upgrades, an artificial turf field, and a six-lane track lost soundly. A split bond proposal, one for $4.2 million for almost all the work inside and around the school, and one for $2 million for the field and track, then lost in early February.
FOUR-POINT PLAN
Board members also outlined at Monday’s meeting and in a flier that should arrive in ANwSU homes late this week their long-range, four-point plan for taking better care of the school building.
Step one is asking for support of the roofing project on Monday.
The second step, according to the flyer, is “the board will recommend funding the annual maintenance budget in a manner that will adequately address the ongoing needs of the school.” The board looked at comparable schools and discovered, the flier states, “our square foot maintenance cost has to date been half that of other schools.”
Next, the board will “recommend the creation of a capital improvement fund that will fund the larger physical needs of the school.” Board members said such funds have been successful at the ANwSU elementary schools, and they could reduce reliance on bonding in the future.
Finally, the flyer said the board will “develop a long-term plan for a second bond that will begin payments when the current bond is paid off in 2020.” That bond paid for the major renovation and expansion of VUHS in 2000, and the future bond could include some of the items rejected by voters since November.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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