VUHS board likely to seek $2 million bond for facility repairs

VERGENNES — Vergennes Union High School officials confirmed this week that the VUHS board next Monday will almost certainly call for a Dec. 3 vote on a bond proposal that would fund fixes for problems in the school’s auditorium, kitchen and cafeteria.
VUHS board and building committee member Kurt Haigis and Addison Northwest Supervisory Union business manager Kathy Cannon said the board is leaning toward warning a bond “in the ballpark” of $2.2 million.
That bond, if approved by ANwSU voters on Dec. 3, would also fund new bleachers for the middle school gym, parking and sidewalk improvements, and work to stop water from infiltrating the building’s foundation.
The board will meet in the VUHS library at 6 p.m. on Oct. 28, and Haigis and Cannon emphasized the public is welcome to attend and ask questions and comment.
Members of the board may also be asked questions at any time. Their names and email addresses may be found at the school board link at anwsu.org.
Haigis also said ongoing roof work on the auditorium should conclude this month, and the auditorium would reopen next month for “day-to-day school activities,” but not plays and probably not concerts, which would be held instead in the high school gym. The school’s annual fall musical has already been moved to the Vergennes Opera House.
“We just can’t hold a good presentation, one the students would be proud of, in the facility we have,” Haigis said.
The Dec. 3 vote date would allow officials to bid out the work over the winter and line up contractors to get the work done next summer, Cannon said.
The work would include a full kitchen upgrade, including new wiring and equipment and an exterior walk-in cooler that Cannon said would be far more energy-efficient, while the cafeteria would get new heating, ventilation and lighting.
Haigis said kitchen work is overdue.
“The basic structure of the kitchen is untouched since it was built,” he said.
The biggest part of the auditorium project would be new heating, ventilation and air conditioning, and Cannon said plans call for an effort “to replace lighting and rigging back up to the minimum we were at” and probably repaired and cleaned stage curtains.
Workers would also make basic safety fixes as soon as the roofing project is complete; that effort would make sure lighting and other fixtures are securely fastened to the ceiling and walls and the stage’s slippery surface is addressed.
As far as the space’s future fitness for putting on plays and concerts, Cannon said the work would basically return the auditorium to its status quo.
“They will still need to rent performance-grade lighting and sound to put on a musical … but they would be able to have their choral and band concerts in there,” she said. “The space would be usable and it might even be a little better … but it would not be performance-grade.”
The middle school gym would probably go without bleachers this winter. The exterior site work includes paving the western parking lot, leveling and resurfacing the sidewalk to Monkton Road, and new handicap parking. The school’s boiler would also get updated controls and other upgrades, Cannon said.
The new bond will also include soffits for the classroom wing, something Cannon said the $600,000 roofing loan the board approved this spring did not cover.
The board had discussed this past spring rolling that loan into a fall bond, a move that could have lowered payments, but officials said members are now leaning toward not doing so.
Cannon said energy savings should offset the annual repayment cost of that loan, which is pegged at $120,000 a year plus interest for five years.
Cannon said she is working up estimates of the tax impact of the bond proposal combined with the loan, and they will be available at the Oct. 28 meeting.
Haigis said the board has focused on the necessities in the run-up to this bond, while looking to expert advice and state requirements.
“We’re reacting to inspections and reports … we have received for the auditorium and kitchen, some of them regulatory and others advisory,” Haigis said.
The board still hopes to get ahead of the curve on VUHS maintenance, which its research showed has been underfunded in past budgets compared to other Vermont schools. 
In the meantime, Haigis said the board is “still in the reactionary mode” while attempting to sort out “several things that need to be done immediately from the things we need to do in the long term.”
For example, he said, a full-scale upgrade of the auditorium could be done when the current major bond for the 2000 VUHS upgrade and expansion is paid off in 2020.
In the meantime, Haigis said the board has asked the VUHS administration to put together an “operations and maintenance plan” that will allow officials to accurately assess how much to budget to meet the building’s needs.
The board also plans to establish a capital fund that will reduce the amount of money that the school will have to borrow to fund future renovations and upgrades.
“The long-term plan is really to start putting funds into a capital account that will allow us to start acting on a strategic basis,” Haigis said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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