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Otter Valley voters eye $5.5 million bond, Nov. 6

BRANDON — Voters in the Otter Valley Unified Union school district will be asked to approve a $5.5 million bond on Nov. 6 to improve the security and safety at Otter Valley Union High School, Neshobe School and Lothrop School.
School district board members and administrators will give a PowerPoint presentation on the projects and their tax implications this Wednesday, Oct. 24, at 6:30 p.m. at OVUHS, and again on Monday, Nov. 5, at 6:30 p.m.
Of the $5.5 million, $725,000 is devoted to safety modifications at the high school, while $820,000 is allocated to the Lothrop School in Pittsford and $3,955,000 is dedicated to major fixes at Brandon’s Neshobe Elementary School and the Forestdale School.
Detailed drawings of the projects with complete information can be found online at rnesu.org.
The tax impact, school officials report, will be held to an anticipated tax increase of $0.03 on a $200,000 home — before income sensitivity and town by town common level of appraisal (CLA) factors. That amounts to about $67.40 per year, or just less than $6 per month.
The highest yearly debt service payment, added to annual budgets, will be $448,084 and will incrementally decrease over the next 20 years.
HOW IT ORIGINATED
According to the school district officials, the bond proposal got rolling when the school board hired architects, contractors and security and safety experts to research and evaluate the front entryway at OVUHS in light of the mass shooting at a Florida school this past Feb. 14, and a threatened incident at nearby Fair Haven Union High School shortly thereafter.
“After Parkland and Fair Haven, it was apparent that — even though we work hard on developing student relationships as key to promoting safety in our school — we had a significant weakness in the main entrance to our school,” said OV Principal James Avery. He described the current entrance as a leaky, 1970s concrete block pathway that doesn’t necessarily direct visitors into the front office before they enter the school’s hallways.
The current proposal, Avery said, will not only provide needed safety measures, but will boost the level of pride students and parents have about the building.
In studying the security of the high school building, the board also learned that all Otter Valley district schools’ safety systems would be improved by controlling facility access through a keyless entry system with existing school identification cards.
The district board noted that the Otter Creek Academy Schools at Leicester, Sudbury and Whiting and Otter Valley Union North Campus facility keyless entry systems and mass notification system improvements are being fully funded through Vermont School Safety Grants with a 25 percent school district match. That match will be covered by the facility funds budget.
However, Lothrop Elementary, Neshobe Elementary and Otter Valley Union High School identified challenges and operational weaknesses that exceeded the scope and funding level of the Vermont School Safety Grants. While facility access and mass notification improvements were funded in the grant to the maximum level of $25,000 per building, a bond was needed to make the improvements necessary for student and staff safety, district officials said.
SLATED IMPROVEMENTS
The operational improvements and benefits at the Lothrop School, amounting to $820,000, include:
•  Constructing a connection link between the Town Hall Building and the Lothrop Building, protecting students as they transfer between buildings. This change will re-design the traffic flow, creating safe bus loading and unloading at the main entrance.
•  Renovating a classroom to become the front office, waiting area, and school nurse space, improving school security through limiting building access.
•  Updating the balcony in the Lothrop Town Hall Building to meet life safety regulations allowing full use of the balcony.
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The Neshobe School improvements, which total $3,955,000, include:
•  Constructing a connection between the two buildings (Neshobe and Forestdale), which will also allow for the addition of four classroom spaces. The new connection will house the front office, principal and school nurse, as well as a security airlock system improving school security through limiting building access and protecting students transferring between the buildings.
•  Building a gymnasium to address space conflicts and expand future learning and community opportunities.
Currently the multipurpose room is limited with half of the room dedicated to breakfast and lunch service for five hours each day. The new gymnasium will allow for dedicated cafeteria space and use of the multipurpose room for large group activities like drama, music and band as well as long-term projects.
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The scope of work done at the Otter Valley Union High School’s antiquated, inefficient and leaking entryway, which began this investigative process, will amount to $725,000. Those improvements include:
•  Redesigning the existing entrance airlock, adding a Student Resource Officer space, creating a secure waiting area at the main entrance, and renovating lobby bathrooms for accessibility and gender neutrality. These improvements will improve school security through limiting access to the school while providing a welcoming entrance to visitors and parents.

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