ANWSD voters to decide fate of $7.6 million bond to fix schools

VERGENNES — The Addison Northwest School District Board has officially adopted a $7.63 million proposal for voter consideration on Town Meeting Day that board members said would address critical energy efficiency, fire safety and security issues at all four district schools.
Board members at a Wednesday meeting also emphasized that payments on a bond to pay for the plan could be funded without increasing taxes.
It could be done, they said, because of savings through the energy improvements and revenue generated from a solar array proposed for the Vergennes Union High School roof, and because payments on the bond that funded the 2000 renovation and expansion of VUHS will soon end.
“This is revenue-neutral, and really necessary,” said ANWSD Board Chairwoman Sue Rakowski.
The board on Jan. 10 also adopted for residents to consider on March 6 a roughly $21.1 million budget to cover 2018-2019 spending for children in Addison, Ferrisburgh, Panton, Vergennes and Waltham.
That plan reduces spending from the current level by about $10,000 and calls for eliminating the equivalent of about seven jobs, including three teachers at the elementary school level and three special education aides.
But because of declining ANWSD enrollment of about 40 students and a shortfall in the statewide education fund, local school tax rates will increase by about 8 cents, or about 5 percent, at least according to preliminary state and ANWSD estimates.
About $4.9 million of the building upgrade proposal the board adopted last week would be devoted to VUHS, which has a heating and ventilation system that a consulting report described as “in failure” and needs a long list of other improvements.
But all three ANWSD elementary schools — Vergennes Union, Ferrisburgh Central School and Addison Central School — will also benefit from proposed energy, safety and security upgrades, according to district officials and Energy Systems New England Inc., the firm hired by the board to evaluate the four district schools.
Energy Systems estimated the district would save roughly $213,000 a year through the energy improvements in the proposal, including about $35,000 through the net-metered solar array.
Those savings are expected to more than cover interest-only bond payments of an estimated $179,000 over the next two years. After that, the annual $400,000 VUHS bond payments come off the books, according to ANWSD officials, and $600,000 payments for the $7.63 million of work would begin.
Officials said those larger payments would not increase taxes because they would be offset by the end of the $400,000 payments and the $200,000-plus of energy savings.
Proposed energy improvements include heating and ventilation upgrades at both VUHS and VUES, such as new high-efficiency boilers and better heating controls at both schools, heat pumps at VUHS, and better insulation at all four schools. Just recently cold weather has caused pipes to freeze and burst at VUHS prompting what is expected to be expensive repairs.
The plan that residents will vote on would also address security and safety issues at all four schools, including:
•  New kitchen hoods at FCS and VUES. Energy Systems said they were unsafe and not code-compliant.
•  Installation of sprinklers at VUES.
•  Exterior door alarms at all four 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, officials noted.
•  LED lighting to reduce energy costs.
•  Card access to all schools’ entrances, and security cameras at exterior drive areas, main hallways and “other critical areas.” 
A report from Energy Systems paints a bleak picture of ventilation and heating in both schools in Vergennes: “Controls systems at High School and (VUES) have been ‘rigged’ to work ‘always on’ because of equipment failure. Ventilation to a large portion of (VUES) and High School is shut off all year because off equipment failures leading spaces with unregulated heat and no ventilation.”
The plan also calls for removal and replacement of failed, leaky heating pipes and 1970s rooftop vents at VUHS.

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