Opinion: VUHS board makes appeal for renovations

Over the coming weeks, Addison Independent readers will see a revised request from the Vergennes Union High School board to the community, in support of renovations at the community’s school. These renovations are necessary and timely, yet many readers may feel like the voters already spoke clearly on this issue during November of 2012 and March of 2013. Why, then, would the board once again ask for community support of this project? Please allow us a moment to explain why.
VUHS’ board of directors is comprised of citizens who, like all readers of the Independent, care for their community and their schools. The role of the board is to ensure that the educational programs have the tools and facilities necessary to educate our children, to prepare them for life in a modern world. Members of the board have clearly heard the heartfelt concerns of property owners regarding the seemingly ever-increasing tax burden. Amidst this backdrop, it would seem at odds with public sentiment to re-issue a bond request. However, the truth is that as of now, there is little choice but to invest in our facility. Continued deferral will just increase the costs on this maintenance unnecessarily. The important questions are: 1) are the repairs really needed; and 2) are they cost-effective?
Over the past several years, the VUHS board has worked hard with school administrators to keep budgets down. In 2011, the budget was reduced by 1.1 percent, and in 2012, reduced by a further 0.1 percent. For 2013, the budget was held to a 1.9 percent increase from 2012. Programs were restructured to maximize efficiency and ensure that no dollars were wasted. This was in recognition that the recession was not abating, that taxpayers ability to pay was at a 20-year minimum, and that Vermont’s governor and Legislature were pushing hard to keep school costs down. During this period, maintenance was deferred, again and again. While there were brewing troubles, the walls were standing and the buckets in the building could hold minor roof leaks. In essence, we felt that funding programs and staff outweighed facility expenditures. That was, until the roof actually failed.
Even up to 2011, the board recognized that continuing deferral of maintenance was having an increasing effect on the integrity of our communities’ high school building. As such, we began the process of examining what needed to be upgraded or renovated to fix existing problems, and also to look forward towards a fully functional facility with a clean slate. To this end, a bond vote was scheduled for fall of 2012 to support comprehensive repairs and renovations across a broad spectrum of areas: kitchen, auditorium, site, roof, athletic facility. That request failed, and residents of the district were clear that the package was simply too large. A second request, issued in early 2013, was split into two components to offer voters a choice, but this too did not garner sufficient support.
In light of this, the board regrouped to consider options, and over the course of the winter we have developed a responsible four point plan as follows:
1)  Repair the roof at the earliest possible time by issuing a short-term request to voters to fund repairs.
2)  Develop a preventive maintenance schedule and plan, and begin appropriate budgeting for maintenance on an annual cycle, following the maintenance schedule.
3)  Respond to repeated citizen requests to develop a capital reserve fund, as is done at each of the three elementary schools in the supervisory union, to be annually proposed to the taxpayers, to forestall the need to come to voters with bond requests for standard maintenance issues, such as roof repairs.
4)  Carefully examine and re-issue a request to our community for a bond to address the most critical school needs.
Throughout the summer, your school board members have vigorously pursued this four-point plan. The roof work is done, thanks to community authorization of a $600,000 five-year loan, and the community should be pleased with the results.
The deferred maintenance schedule is nearly complete and will be ready for examination during budget development for the 2014-2015 school year. The board has passed a first reading of a new school policy requiring adequate maintenance funding and an annual capital fund request. Lastly, the board has carefully examined current and pressing needs to bring our facility back to a safe and functional status. This work accomplished, the board is anew requesting that our community support its school facility, by considering a revised bond offering of $2.8 million that will solely address deferred maintenance or achieve cost savings, including:
•    Replace the outdated and non-compliant 1958 kitchen, and in the process, achieve significant energy efficiency savings.
•    Repair the auditorium, including replacing the failed lighting and curtain rigging that school maintenance staff was required to remove this fall, with functional equipment that meets current safety codes. This includes upgrades to the electrical supply. Also planned is a replacement of the currently non-functional air handlers, a thorough and complete cleaning, and paint. While this is far from what was envisioned in last year’s efforts, it will yield a safe, clean, functional space to support all of the school’s needs that had been met up to 2013. This work is must-do to support our school’s educational programs, including arts, music, drama, assembly and other needs.
•    Keep water out of our building, by addressing several site deficiencies. This will enhance safety around the school grounds, add disabled-accessible parking, resurface our crumbling lots, and redirect stormwater runoff.
•    Refinance the $600,000 roof loan passed last June into the proposed bond package. This will significantly reduce tax burdens, by spreading the life of this 30-year investment across a 20-year payback. This work will also tackle some exterior fascia and soffit work that could not be afforded by the roof project.
This request is being issued anew because the longer the community waits to address these issues, the more expensive the work will be. The price tag is considerable, but the work is absolutely necessary, and the roster of items has been carefully examined and refined. The tax implication of this is $24 for a $200,000 home in year one, increasing to a maximum of $76 in year two, and declining thereafter.
Seventy-six dollars per year boils down to less than $1.50 per week, or two dimes per day. This is a small cost to forestall future needs for more costly repairs. The board has been committed to obtaining the most cost-efficient means of restoration for our school, and the time to act is now. Look for more information in the coming weeks, including much more detail regarding tax implications at the town level. Please contact your elected board member to discuss this work, and to ask any questions. There will be a Public Information Meeting at VUHS on Tuesday, Dec. 3, at 6 p.m., in anticipation of a vote one week later. Board members are presently meeting with local civic organizations and town councils throughout the course of November and early December.
The VUHS board appreciates your consideration of this information, and we ask only that you vote based on a full understanding of the facts.
Vergennes Union High School Board of Directors
Kurt Haigis, Chair, Ferrisburgh
Lori Gutowski, Vice Chair, Ferrisburgh
Neil Kamman, Secretary, Vergennes
Carrie Beebe, Panton
Christopher Cousino, Vergennes
Jeffry Glassberg, Waltham
Michelle Kelly, Addison

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