Addison Northwest likely to consider $7.6 million bond to update school facilities

VERGENNES — The Addison Northwest School District Board will probably propose to voters a $7.6 million bond on Town Meeting Day that would fund a long list of energy efficiency, fire safety and security upgrades at all four district schools.
And board members believe that bond can be mostly or even completely paid for without increasing taxes.
Board members and ANWSD administrators stressed that financial projections are still in early stages, but one central factor is known: The timing of new bond payments can closely coincide with the end of payments on the bond that funded the 2000-2001 renovation and expansion of Vergennes Union High School.
Tom Borchert, chairperson of the ANWSD board’s facilities committee, said numbers are preliminary, but hopeful.
“We’re trying to make it as revenue-neutral as possible in terms of the budgetary impact,” Borchert said. “Essentially what’s happening here is that the payments for the upcoming bond would simply take the place of the payments for the expiring bond.”
In considering making a plan final at a January meeting, board members will also be looking at savings from a number of energy-efficiency upgrades.
The heating and ventilation improvements at VUHS and Vergennes Union Elementary School would feature new high-efficiency boilers and better heating controls for both, heat pumps at VUHS, better insulation at all four schools (VUHS, VUES, Addison Central School and Ferrisburgh Central), and a solar array on the high school’s main classroom wing.
Borchert said the board’s Energy Efficient Investments  Inc. (EEI) advisors are convinced the district would save roughly $200,000 a year through these changes, including about $35,000 through the net-metered solar array.
“The draft proposal has a little over $200,000 in guaranteed savings,” Borchert said. “That includes the solar. It would be a little bit less without the solar.”
An EEI report describes the VUHS heating and ventilation system as “in failure,” and paints a bleak picture of ventilation and heating in both the union schools in the city: “Controls systems at the High School and VUES have been ‘rigged’ to work ‘always on’ because of equipment failure. Ventilation to large portion of VUES and High School is shut off all year because of equipment failures leaving spaces with unregulated heat and no ventilation.”
Earlier this week in an unrelated interview VUHS Principal Stephanie Taylor said the temperature in her office barely tops 50 degrees when she arrives some winter mornings, and VUHS teachers and students mention wild temperature swings in classrooms.
Borchert said the board is looking at more than the bottom line in wanting to improve energy efficiency in ANWSD buildings.
“The HVAC system at the high school is super inefficient and fragile. So there is both the need to make sure the system works, but also I think the working and learning conditions have been pretty compromised,” he said.
Other proposed energy upgrades include LED lighting district-wide, and removal/replacement of 1970s rooftop vents and failed, leaky heating pipes at VUHS.
As well as steps to address energy efficiency, the plan the board is considering would deal with security and safety issues at all four schools:
•  New kitchen hoods at Ferrisburgh Central and VUES. EEI said they were unsafe and not code-compliant. “In order to keep those kitchens working they need to be installed,” Borchert said.
•  Installation of sprinklers at VUES.
•  Exterior door alarms at all schools that would sound if doors were propped open for more than two minutes. Lack of access control at the high school factored into two incidents this fall, school officials noted.
•  Card access to all schools’ entrances and security cameras at exterior drive areas, main hallways and what EEI called “other critical areas.” Borchert said the board will strike a balance with camera placement. “There would be some cameras, but there wouldn’t be cameras all over the place. We’ve tried to maintain reasonable privacy with the health and safety issues,” he said.
The ANWSD board will next meet on Jan. 3, a meeting that will largely be devoted to its district-wide budget, expected to be a challenge with declining enrollment and the news that there is a shortfall in the state Education Fund. On the plus side, district taxpayers will receive an 8-cent discount on the final school-tax rate, courtesy of the district’s 2016 unification vote.
Borchert said in weighing this bond proposal board members are keeping taxpayers in mind as well as the needs of the buildings and their occupants.
“The committee and the board are extremely aware of the budgetary and financial impact, and this proposal ideally hits the sweet spot,” he said. 

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