Five-town residents to decide fate of $33M Mt. Abraham bond

BRISTOL — Voters in the five towns that comprise the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union will decide Tuesday whether to approve a $32.6 million bond to finance an ambitious renovation of Mount Abraham Union High School.
The project would make major structural and aesthetic improvements to the building, which has not undergone a substantial renovation since it was constructed in the late 1960s.
Major parts of the plan include building a new middle school gymnasium, installing 21st-century electronic and communications infrastructure, moving the library and media center to the front of the building, making upgrades to the pool, constructing new bathrooms and locker rooms, updating auditorium lighting and seating and renovating the lobby to improve aesthetics and heighten security.
The $32.6 million proposal, which would be the largest in the history of Addison County, has been controversial since the Mount Abraham school board’s decision last month to put it on the ballot in November. Residents have voiced their opinions at public meetings, in online forums and in letters to the Independent.
See Angelo Lynn’s editorial on the project
Proponents of the project argue that Mount Abraham is long past due for an upgrade and that while expensive, construction costs will only increase in the future. Supporters also argue the renovations will improve the learning environment for students, and that a refurbished school will attract new families to move to the district, improve property values and help reverse the ANeSU’s declining enrollment.
Opponents balk at the price tag and accompanying tax increase, pegged by the board at between $274 and $398 for the first year of the 20-year bond, depending on the town. Others have said they believe more taxpayer funding should be put toward academics as opposed to brick-and-mortar improvements.
Residents in Bristol have expressed concern about being saddled with this bond as well as one for a new town firehouse, which will likely be put before voters next year.
Voters in the five ANeSU towns — Bristol, Lincoln, New Haven, Monkton and Starksboro — are no strangers to bond votes; this will be the fourth since 2000. It took three tries in the last decade for residents to approve an addition to the building. Voters rejected an initial bond proposal of $12.5 million, then nixed an amended proposal of $9.3 million before OK’ing a pared-down $3.5 million plan with the promise that 30 percent of the cost would be picked up by Montpelier.
The board said it does not anticipate receiving any federal, state or private aid for this project.
The proposal has been several years in the making. Last fall, the Mount Abraham board created a facilities committee composed of administrators, school board members and district residents to assess the school’s deficiencies and recommend improvements.
After conducting months of research that included building tours, community surveys and a report prepared by architecture firm Dore and Whittier, the committee delivered its comprehensive report to the board in September.
If voters approve the bond, work on the project can begin as soon as next summer. If voters reject the proposal, the school board will go back to the drawing board to figure out how and when to present an amended bond proposal.
For more detailed information about the project, visit http://mtabebondproject.weebly.com. Also see this list of Frequently Asked Questions prepared by the district.

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