Study committee recommends $35M renovation for Mt. Abe

BRISTOL — Monday night the Mount Abe Renovation Committee voted to recommend bringing a $35 million renovation bond to voters this coming November. The committee’s recommendation now goes before Addison Northeast Superintendent Patrick Reen and the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union board for official consideration.
If voters agree to fund the bond payments, construction to overhaul the nearly 50-year-old Bristol school building would begin the summer of 2019.
“Structurally to the school this is the work that we’ve been saying for 10 years needs to be done,” said committee member Troy Paradee, one of the few committee members who served on the previous committee. “I don’t know how we can do less than this without just nickel and diming all the little stuff. This is what it costs to do this work.”
Residents would pay an extra $87 per $100,000 on the value of their home in the first year of payments on a $35 million bond, Addison Northeast Chief Financial Officer Howard Mansfield told the Independent. His estimate is based on a 3.75 percent interest rate.
He said this year’s budget already allocates $1 million for school renovation; that same money could be applied to repairs on their own or to a bond project.
“We can keep spending $1 million a year to do repairs or we can take this bond and complete the project,” said Mansfield.
The vote to recommend the $35 million bond followed a presentation by architects Dore & Whittier, which outlined a $36.7 million renovation plan. The committee decided on a $35 million bond for work beginning in two years with the assumption that the other $1.7 million in the plan would be paid for out of the $1 million annual appropriation in the Mount Abe budget already earmarked for repairs.
Dore & Whittier tailored their renovation proposal to meet the needs and goals articulated by the committee. Overall goals included making the facility more welcoming, improving air circulation, bringing in more natural light, better aligning the space to academic needs, making needed repairs to infrastructure, and bringing the building in line with current safety and handicap-accessibility regulations.
“This kind of gives you the benchmarks of where we’re at right now so we can have a good conversation about, ‘How do we align what our needs and priorities are with our ability to be able to afford a project that we can put in front of the voters?’” architect Lee Dore said.
Proposed changes to the building’s exterior include:
•  Renovating the main entrance.
•  Adding a second gym toward the rear of the building, with its own event entrance/lobby.
•  Creating a loop road so that traffic could circulate around the entire facility, including a rear bus drop-off and delivery docks for service vehicles.
•  Adding two outside terraces for lunchtime use, accessed through the large and small cafeterias.
•  Creating a number of skylights to bring in natural light.
Among the most dramatic exterior changes are those proposed to the building’s main entrance — replacing the heavy, brick façade with a wall of windows that would stretch from the current main office to the corner of the large cafeteria. This would bring in more light and make the front lobby more welcoming,
First floor changes would include:
•  Adding more space for the main office and upstairs guidance area by eliminating front stairs in those areas. Instead a staircase would run up the current trophy case wall and connect the lobby floor with the mezzanine above.
•  Moving the library to the front of the building, across the lobby from the main office area.
•  Consolidating the shop and design/tech areas on the first floor, taking up much of what is now the library.
•  Relocating the maintenance area to the back of the building, with easy access to loading docks and outside.
•  Situate new locker rooms between the pool and the proposed new gym, to do double duty serving both areas and to improve safety, cleanliness and access so swimmers in wet suits aren’t tracking water across a main hall.
•  Reconfiguring the band room floor to make it ADA-compliant and creating a larger, partitionable area at the back of the auditorium for chorus classes, which have now outgrown their rehearsal room.
•  Upgrading the auditorium with new stage flooring, some new seating, new lighting and new sound equipment.
•  Expanding the middle school art area.
Proposed changes to the second floor include adding hallways to provide direct access to classrooms now nested behind other classrooms and enlarging the science area.
Other changes to the school’s interior include restoring the windows at the ends of corridors, many of which have been walled off to create office spaces.
Dore and Tom Hengelsberg of D&W said that overall principles for devising the proposed renovation plans included moving as few interior walls as possible to keep costs down, keeping the same number of classrooms and anticipating a student body roughly the same size as at present (around 650 students).
Code, safety and maintenance items in the proposed renovation plan include:
•  Changes to stair railings and bathrooms for ADA compliance
•  A new sprinkler system to serve the whole building
•  New fire alarm and security systems
•  Cleaning, replacing and/or refurbishing of the entire heating and ventilation system
•  Removing and replacing lighting, the electrical system and plumbing fixtures.
The proposed $36.7 million price tag allots almost $29 million for construction; $7.2 million for what are called “soft costs,” which include architectural and project management fees and a 5 percent contingency; and $442,500 in a separate hazardous materials abatement category.
The $29 million in construction costs would be allotted:
•  $11.3 million(39 percent) for renovations per se
•  $10 million (34 percent) for required code and maintenance upgrades
•  $5.1 million (18 percent) for the new gym
•  $2.5 million (9 percent) for a category called “site related.”
Community members had a dramatic taste of the cost of repairs when leaky pipes forced the school to replace the gym floor last fall, at an emergency cost of around $165,000. There have been ongoing repairs to the building since it first opened in 1969. Yet with the exception of an addition built in 2004, the structure has not undergone a major renovation.
Three years ago, the previous renovation committee considered options ranging from $11.6 million to $32.6 million; voters shot down a proposed $32.6 million bond.
The 2017 renovation committee acknowledged in their discussion that the district must start a community dialogue to convince people of the need for the bond. Committee members certainly expect sticker shock.
Nevertheless, Monday’s vote was strongly in favor of the $35 million amount. Voting “yes” were committee members Paradee of Bristol; Denise Dalton, Monkton; Dennis Casey, Brad Johnson and Dan Nugent, Starksboro; and Dustin Corrigan, Mount Abe faculty.
Mount Abe Athletic and Activities Director Devin Wendel voted no, because he felt the bond should be for the full amount recommended by Dore & Whittier.
Lincoln committee member Bob Patterson abstained, and said he felt the bond figure was too high. Committee members Tom Adams and Otto Funke were absent.
Superintendent Reen, Mount Abe Principal Jessica Barewicz, ANESU Facilities Director Alden Harwood, and Mount Abe Facilities Manager Mike Kenyon are on the committee but are nonvoting.
In the discussion leading up to the vote committee members weighed their responsibility to carry the 48-year-old facility into the future.
“I look at this design and it does everything. It answers everybody’s questions,” said Paradee. “We’re  adding the gym that everybody said is priority one, while keeping the pool.”
Paradee pointed out that in terms of the school’s interior, he felt the design makes the minimum changes needed to get maximum effect.
Several members asked how the current condition of the school affects prospective new residents.
Mansfield noted that attracting new families brings value to the community. When new families choose to move into the district, property values increase. When they choose to go elsewhere, property values go down.
“We’ve had families stop by the school this summer looking to purchase in the area,” Barewicz said. “And they’ve openly commented, ‘It looks like a prison.’ And you’ve got three different districts within 20-minutes’ driving range.”
At Monday’s meeting, Morrisville resident Peter Wilder recounted how his town went through this same, “very painful process” 15 years ago to renovate a school built in the 1930s. He said that despite the tax hike, renovating the school has yielded positive benefits for the community. Among these benefits is that property values have gone up.
Beyond the increase in property values, Wilder said that for Morrisville residents renovating the school was about leaving an important legacy for future students.
Mount Abe Committee member Dennis Casey asked how improvements to the Bristol facility would affect education, especially for students from challenging economic circumstances.
Barewicz shared her expertise on how the “hidden curriculum” — what the look and feel of a school tells students about their value to the community — translates into academic success.
“I think it’d be a slam dunk if we could lift these kids up,” Casey said.

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