Opinion: Mount Abe project planners must focus on priorities

Tuesday night, two-thirds of the voters defeated the proposed school bond. That is two-thirds of the community who are saying no; that they cannot afford a $33 million price tag to improve our school.
I don’t think anyone is condemning the committee for all of their hard work and effort. The reality of the situation is that the five-town area is not financially able to carry this burden. I have said it before and I will say it again — with no big business to help with the tax burden, Bristol and its surrounding small communities simply cannot afford such a hefty bill.
It’s a double-edged sword. You can’t fight growth by making zoning regulations impossible for any type of larger-scale business to thrive because you like the small, cozy bedroom town atmosphere, and then expect to have the same quality of school (not education, but actual school) of larger districts, like Burlington, CVU, Middlebury and Essex, who DO have industrial businesses to bear a hefty chunk of the bill. We are not Burlington; we are not Shelburne; we are not Essex. Nor will we ever be with the way we are currently zoned. We don’t have an IBM, or a college or the big box stores in Williston. We had Autumn Harp and we drove them away.
I wholeheartedly agree that Mt. Abe needs to be upgraded. If we are going to upgrade it to promote educational growth and a better learning environment for our children, then let’s do just that. But fix what is needed, and work with what we have already. We don’t need to demolish our track and replace it with a rubberized turf — I see community members walking and running the track everyday just the way it is now. We don’t need new bleachers in the pool area or more windows added to the pool area — there were new bleachers put in last year and I can’t come up with a logical explanation as to why there need to be more windows at an indoor pool.
We don’t need to move the kitchen and reconfigure the cafeterias. We don’t need a concession stand for sports events — I just traveled to my daughter’s cross country meet for states at Thetford Academy. They are a private school that hosts a statewide sporting event every year. They don’t have concession stands. They set up tents and have parents volunteer to make everything you could make at a concession stand.
We don’t need another gymnasium. Let’s start by repairing the divider in the current gym so that it can be divided in two. Or, if there is still a need for extra gym space for practices, both Bristol Elementary and Beeman have wonderful gyms that we could use. Let’s use our current and available resources that we do have. Every classroom does not need to have natural light. Millions of people spend hours at their jobs with no windows. Are we trying to teach our children that they can’t learn unless they have windows? Do doctors refuse to perform surgeries unless there are windows? Is the only way a lawyer can win a case is if the courtroom has a skylight? No.
I agree that we need to redo the bathrooms and locker rooms — they are long overdue and are disgusting and a health hazard as they stand. Let’s replace the rusting lockers and the dilapidated furniture and fixtures throughout the building. Replace the ceiling tiles and flooring. Replace the current brick wall between the administration offices and the lobby with windows, and add the security cameras and motion detectors to help keep our children safe.
Reconfigure the current space in order to get rid of the unsightly temporary classroom trailers. If the current curriculum is headed toward eliminating shop classes, reconfigure that space into classrooms and leave the library where it is. The wrestling room is highly unutilized. That could be made into two classrooms.
If we, as a community, truly want this for our children’s education, then let’s start with eliminating all of the proposed extras I mentioned above that benefit Mt. Abe’s extra-curricular activities and start with fixing and updating what will help with learning, as well as keeping our children safe.
I commend and applaud every member of the committee for all of their hard work, time and effort. But until we face the economic reality of our community (or revamp our current zoning regulations to attract bigger businesses to move in) and trim the fat of what is desired over what is needed, the 3,312 that voted this down will continue to do so. Because it is the fiscally responsible thing to do.
What good is a fancy school to brag about if we are forcing our struggling residents and our long-time elderly residents to have to give up their homes?
Mary Dearborn

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