Voters back $2.88 million VUHS bond

VERGENNES — Addison Northwest Supervisory Union voters on Tuesday backed, by 682-487, a $2.88 million bond request from the Vergennes Union High School board to fund work at the 55-year-old school, the major elements of which will be a new kitchen and cafeteria and upgrades to the school auditorium that would return it to full use.
Officials said most of the project should be completed during summer months.
The bond also includes new financing for the $600,000 loan ANwSU voters approved this past spring to pay for new roofing on the school’s classroom wing and auditorium. School officials said moving what was a five-year note with a higher interest rate into a 20-year bond with a lower rate will save about $80,000 a year over the next five years.
Approval came by 58.3 to 41.7 percent in ballots that were commingled from the five ANwSU towns.
VUHS board chairman Kurt Haigis said board members were gratified by the successful vote, but pledged to continue outreach to residents given that more than four in 10 voters did not back the bond.
“We’re very happy to see the support from the community,” Haigis said. “But we’re also mindful that a significant portion of the community doesn’t feel the same way.”
Tuesday’s successful vote followed not only the approval of the $600,000 loan in the spring, but also two earlier defeats of larger bonds with greater scopes in the past 13 months.
In November 2012 ANwSU voters rejected a proposed $6.5 million bond that included more significant improvements and new seating and handicap access provisions to the school’s auditorium, installation of a six-lane track and an artificial turf playing field, upgrades to its kitchen and cafeteria, the roof repairs and the site work. 
In February, tandem proposals failed. A $4.2 million bond proposal lost that would have funded the interior improvements, roofing, and sitework. A second $2 million bond proposal for the field and track lost overwhelmingly at the same time.
The VUHS board regrouped and in the spring proposed the $600,000 loan to fix leaky roofing, and then put forward Tuesday’s successful $2.88 million plan.
That proposal focused on restoring the auditorium to functionality, not the complete fix that the earlier plans included.
Board members describe most of the items addressed by this bond as “deferred maintenance.” The auditorium, kitchen and cafeteria went untouched during the major 2000 renovation and expansion of the school, and they said the maintenance budget was cut during the recent recession years.
Haigis said this bond passed because school officials worked hard to show residents the work it will pay for was badly needed.
“It’s because we reached out to the community and talked to them and had frank discussions,” Haigis said. “Everything that was in the bond was necessary.”
According to ANwSU estimates, the first-year tax hike after bond approval will be about 1.1 cents, followed by an increase of 3.7 cents in the second year that would gradually drop to 3.5 cents in the fifth year and further down from there.
Those estimates are based on fiscal year 2014 calculations and would vary somewhat in individual towns based on their Common Levels of Appraisal (CLAs) of property tax values.
A 1.1-cent increase would mean an additional $11 of taxes per $100,000 of assessed value, or $33 for a $300,000 home, assuming its owners were not eligible for tax relief.
The 3.7-cent increase translates to $37 per $100,000 of assessed value, or $111 for a $300,000 home. Most ANwSU taxpayers receive prebates and will not feel the full effect of those projected increases.
Details on the proposed work to be funded by the $2.88 million bond include:
•  A new heating and ventilation system and enough rigging, lighting and sound improvements for the auditorium to make it safe and usable for performances, although equipment will have to be rented for musicals, as was the case before it was closed this past August. The auditorium, closed after failing a late-summer safety inspection, will also be painted and cleaned.
•  A complete rebuild of and new equipment for the kitchen and cafeteria, which date back to the school’s 1958 construction.
•  New bleachers and backboards for the middle school gym.
•  Repairs to the western sidewalk to end flooding there, new handicap and guest parking spaces, a reconfigured bus pick-up and drop-off area, and work to stop water from infiltrating the school’s foundation.
•  Soffit repairs under eaves where roofing has just been replaced; that work was not done this fall because roofing estimates came in high.
Board members have consistently emphasized that this bond proposal is step one in a four-phase plan.
They say they also plan to bump up the annual maintenance line item in the budget after discovering VUHS lagged behind comparable schools in that department; establish capital funds and contribute to them annually to reduce future reliance on bonds; and propose a major upgrade bond in 2021, when the current major bond expires that is paying for the 2000 VUHS project. That future bond could further address the auditorium and playing fields.
Haigis said on Monday the board adopted a policy that VUHS budgets must devote at least 1 percent to “operations and maintenance,” and also made formal the policy the board will request separate capital funds annually.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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