Letter to the Editor: Mount Abe board could lease existing facility, build new

The bond request of $35 million to renovate Mt. Abe has failed twice. I believe that the request is asking for too much money to be invested in the wrong place. The reconstruction of the 50-year-old Mt. Abe building does not address three important background facts:
1. The community cannot afford this request.
2. Mt. Abe ranks number 33 of 55 public high schools in Vermont (by 2017 test results).
3. The student body is shrinking because the region is losing young adults due to lack of opportunity.
I have an alternate suggestion that I believe addresses all these relevant issues.
The district should sell the current Mt. Abe building to an outside entity, and lease back those parts of it that remain useful to the Mt. Abraham mission, namely the entrance, auditorium, gymnasium, pool, cafeteria and perhaps the library. The new “owner,” given a guarantee of a base income from such a negotiated lease, could be bound to offer the balance of the building as incubator space for local nascent business operations that require affordable space.
They could also offer the athletic facilities to a health club, the food prep facilities to small food enterprises, the auditorium to a movie house and the gymnasium to the Town Recreation Department during those times when the school wasn’t using them, for a fee.
At the other end of a connecting hallway to the north, build a new academic building that addresses the needs of the teaching aspects of the 740 students that currently attend Mt. Abe. This building should be a single story, net zero, state-of-the-art academic teaching machine, wired for computer learning, distance learning, laboratory training, language arts and liberal arts.
The academic requirement of space is 90 square feet per student, for a total new building size of 66,600 square foot, or a square building footprint of a little over 250 feet on a side.
At the average construction cost of contemporary high schools in the U.S. of $259/square foot, this new building would cost in the neighborhood of $17.3 million. Such a building could include a new gymnasium of 6,000 square feet, a second library of 6,000 square feet and still have room for 36 classrooms of 1,000 square feet each, space for two teachers and up to 30 students. That’s enough for the whole student body to be in class at the same time, clearly more than necessary, but a place to start planning.
Such an approach would offer solid advantages over the current proposal:
1. New building, half the cost.
2. Non-disruptive of current operations.
3. New larger building complex with an expanded mission (partnering business and education).
4. Enhanced school/community engagement.
5. New Academic building focused on current technology and teaching philosophies.
Stephen Harris

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