Work to begin on VUHS roof, board to seek more upgrades

VERGENNES — Work should begin next week on a $600,000 project that Vergennes Union High School officials said is critical to the building’s integrity: New roofing and insulation on its classroom wing and auditorium.
After trimming the proposed work because bids came in higher than expected, a school board member said school directors were happy with the compromises, and he reminded district residents that further repairs are still needed on the building.
After defeating larger bond proposals late in 2012 and earlier in 2013, Addison Northwest Supervisory Union residents on May 14 voted 724-160 in favor of taking out a five-year loan to fund the roofing work.
The project, for which Burlington’s J.A. Morrissey Inc. will serve as the general contractor, will go more than a month into the school year. According to ANwSU business manager Kathy Cannon, the expected completion date for the classroom wing is the end of September, and for the auditorium mid-October.
Letters will go out to parents explaining the project and the steps that will be taken to protect students’ health during it. Cannon said the glue that will attach the roofing membrane to the decking is non-toxic, and that workers will perform air-quality tests.
Board members are happy the leaky roofing will finally be replaced.
“It was the project that will be most effective in making the place a safe place to educate students,” said VUHS board member Kurt Haigis, a member of the board’s facilities committee.
But it proved more difficult to get the project rolling after the spring vote than officials hoped: Bids arrived higher than expected — Morrissey, the low bidder, first came in at $687,500, Cannon said. With engineering and architectural fees, permits and contingencies to be added, she said the bill would have neared $800,000.
One problem was that the law no longer allows workers to remove asbestos using power tools, making prep work more labor intensive. Construction costs also generally increased, and by the time voters backed the roofing project it meant much of the work had to be done while school is in session, another factor in pushing costs up.
“We are paying a premium because the roofers do not like to work on an occupied school,” Cannon said.
Rather than seek more funding or delay the project, Haigis said the board chose to make changes that saved about $162,000 before fees and contingencies were added in.
“We told the public that we needed to act immediately,” he said. “Rather than ask the public for more money, we negotiated a different construction model to accomplish the same goal.”
Changes from an extra-thick roofing membrane to a standard membrane and from a glue with a 30-year warranty to one with a 20-year warranty saved a combined total of more than $44,000.
Haigis said VUHS will still have quality roofing.
“I’d say it was very good instead of excellent,” he said.
After hearing from experts that insulating higher than the R-30 level brings diminished returns, the board also saved about $12,000 by switching from R-40 insulation to R-35 insulation. A small change in materials used for fascia boards in the eaves saved another $7,000.
The board also chose not to install thicker decking to support future solar arrays, saving more than $37,000. Cannon said that support can be retrofitted.
Finally, another $61,000 was cut by deciding not to replace all soffits, but only to rip out those that had to be removed. Haigis said if other parts of the project go well, workers will replace more soffits, while those left in place because they are still serviceable will be dealt with in future projects or maintenance plans.
Payments on the $600,000 loan will add about $10 of annual taxes per $100,000 of assessed home value, according to Cannon. Those who are eligible for prebates would not necessarily pay the full amount of that increase.
That estimate does not take into account adjustments for towns’ common levels of appraisals (CLAs), but Cannon said ANwSU CLAs will not move the number much.
But it is possible ANwSU taxpayers will never make payments on a loan. School officials are still leaning toward floating a bond request this fall that will make what Haigis called “bare bones” improvements and repairs to the VUHS kitchen and cafeteria, including replacing equipment that dates back to the school’s construction more than 50 years ago.
Replacing the auditorium’s failing heating and ventilation system and making site improvements, including stopping water infiltration, could also be on the table.
That request, which Cannon said officials were hopeful would total “no more than $2 million,” would also include cheaper long-term funding for the roofing project.
Cannon said officials are updating estimates from previous bond votes in order to better pin them down. 
Voting in November, timing that would allow a midwinter bidding process for a summer 2014 project, would help keep costs in line, Cannon said.
“Going out to bid in January, February, is critical in getting good pricing,” she said.
Haigis said the board is following through on the plan it adopted this past spring. 
“We told the public at the last meeting after the bond was defeated we would be coming back this fall,” he said.
Haigis agreed that doing the projects on a piecemeal basis is adding to the cost, but that the board had no choice but to address the most pressing needs — the roofing and the aging kitchen — one at a time after the defeats of the larger bond proposals.
He said once the short-term needs are met, the board remains committed to the four-point building maintenance and improvement plan it adopted this spring with input from Waltham developer and board member Jeffry Glassberg.
“Rather than handle things on an emergency basis, we’re putting together a plan that will allow us to maintain the building in an economical and efficient manner,” Haigis said.
The first step in that plan was to take care of the pressing needs, such as the roofing and kitchen.
The second step, according to a flier the board sent out this spring, is “the board will recommend funding the annual maintenance budget in a manner that will adequately address the ongoing needs of the school.”
Haigis again noted this week that the board looked at comparable schools and discovered, as the flier stated, “our square foot maintenance cost has to date been half that of other schools.”
Next, the flier stated 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 ANwSU elementary schools, and they could reduce future reliance on bonding.
Finally, the flier 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, such as major auditorium improvements, a track, and an artificially surfaced field.
Haigis said the board hopes that once ANwSU residents understand the board’s approach, voters will support the facility. 
“What we are doing now is not as efficient as doing it under a long-term plan, but we fully expect to have a long-term plan in place and take care of the school more effectively going forward,” he said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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