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New committee charged with determining cost of Mount Abe repairs

BRISTOL — The five towns of the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union will again be asked to take a hard look at renovating the 48-year-old Mount Abraham Union High School facility, including possibly with funds from a bond.
“It’s really about planning and fiscal responsibility,” ANeSU Superintendent Patrick Reen said at a Mount Abe school board meeting Tuesday.
“If something happens in an aging building, when it happens we often don’t have the choice of fix it or not. If say some plumbing issues happen in a series of classrooms, we probably couldn’t choose to fix or not fix that. We’d be subject to fix that in an emergency situation at whatever the cost happened to be without having the benefit of being able to plan for it.”
At the meeting, the MAUHS board voted unanimously to form a Mount Abraham Renovation Committee, charged with determining the needs of the aging facility and with shaping “a potential bond measure to go before the five-town voters in the 2017-2018 school year.”
The committee will be responsible for researching and drafting a plan for renovating the facility and coming up with a time table for a possible bond vote and for construction. As part of its research on how to best address the building deficiencies, the committee is tasked with gathering feedback from the community.
The committee will submit its recommendations to Reen no later than Aug. 1.
Factors the committee will take into consideration include:
•  Meeting the district’s educational goals for all students.
•  Making cost and tax impact financially viable for five-town voters.
•  Ensuring that the facility and infrastructure is safe, is efficiently maintained, and meets state and ANeSU expectations.
The committee will be made up of board members, Mount Abe staff, students and community members. Mount Abe Principal Jessica Barewicz and Superintendent Reen will be nonvoting members of the committee. ANeSU includes Bristol, New Haven, Lincoln, Monkton and Starksboro.
Community members may apply to be on the renovation committee by submitting a letter of interest to Mount Abe Chair Dawn Griswold by Feb. 17. Letters can be sent to the ANESD Central Office, 72 Munsill Ave., Suite 601, Bristol, VT 05443. For more information about applying to be on the committee, call the ANeSU central office at 453-3657. Appointments to the committee are to be made no later than Feb. 28.
Construction on the present structure was completed April 1969, and five-town residents first toured the new facility at an April 13 open house that year. Since then the building has remained much as it was, with the exception of an addition built in 2004. This past fall, leaking plumbing destroyed the gym floor, with emergency replacement and repairs costing around $165,000, as estimated in December.
Just two years ago, five-town voters rejected a $32.6 million bond to renovate the aging structure. At that time, the bond was the largest ever proposed in Addison County. A Mount Abraham Facilities Advisory Committee, made up of residents, board members, school officials and students, had worked for two years to research and come up with the $32.6 million proposal. As part of the overall research and assessment process, the board had also hired architects Dore and Whittier to do a feasibility study.
The architects ultimately presented three renovation options, ranging from minimal upgrades to major construction. The least expensive option was $11.6 million; the most expensive was $27.9 million. The $32.6 million price tag from the 2014 bond included the later addition of a new gym for the middle school.  
The board had authorized a $32.6 million bond vote at its Sep. 16, 2014, meeting, just seven weeks before Election Day.
At this past Tuesday night’s meeting, various board members, including Starksboro’s Bonita Bedard, spoke to the importance of being transparent and of including the community in decision-making processes as the five towns again consider how best to repair and renovate MAUHS.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is reached at gaenm@addisonindependent.com.

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