Mount Abe gets more than just a shine-up

LIBRARY MEDIA SPECIALIST Debra Bobilin, left, and Assistant Librarian Julie Potter love the new mobile circulation desk at Mount Abraham Union High School. Built by New Haven-based Silver Maple Construction, the desk features the silhouette of Mt. Abraham and sits on casters, so that it can be reinstalled wherever the new library ends up getting sited.

I want (kids) to pull in here and feel like it’s all right. I want them to think, Safe. Clean. Home.
— Joel FitzGerald

BRISTOL — The Mount Abraham Unified School District is understandably proud of the facilities work it has recently accomplished at Mount Abraham Union High School.
The library, cafeteria, gym, restrooms, wrestling room, playing fields, bus barn and “white house” all saw significant upgrades — many of them completed this past summer (see box for details).
A lot of that work can be captured in a photograph or short video. Indeed, in the weeks leading up to the first day of school, MAUSD officials put on a social media and newsletter blitz that included plenty of visual evidence. But no photograph or three-minute video (or regular-size newspaper story, for that matter) could do justice to the hours of reflection and planning that led to the execution of these projects.
“This is the start of the revolution,” said MAUSD facilities director Joel FitzGerald as he and MAUSD business manager Floyd Davison led the Independent on a tour of Mount Abe last week.
FitzGerald wasn’t pointing to barricades as he said this, nor was he suggesting anything be overthrown. Rather, his words reflected a conviction that transcends dollars and drywall: Facilities work makes a meaningful difference in the education — and indeed the lives — of students.
Even at fragile, grumpy, 50-year-old Mount Abe.

The MAUSD has three times asked 5-Town voters to approve renovation bonds for Mount Abe, and 5-Town voters have three times turned them down.
With its limited resources, and no guarantee that a fourth bond proposal will succeed, the district has to be careful about the facilities work it chooses.
One thing the district is eager to avoid is spending money twice.
“We go back to every bond proposal (from 2014, 2017 and 2018) to make sure stuff isn’t slated to move to another part of the building,” FitzGerald said. “That’s how we’re planning this. We’re renovating only what will stay in the same place and have the same use.”
“We’re investing where we know we can invest for 30 years,” Davison said.
Sometimes this has meant not doing any work at all, as in the case of Mount Abe’s windowless classrooms, which everyone presumes will undergo radical changes as part of any future renovation plan.
Sometimes it has meant finding creative solutions, like purchasing a mobile circulation desk for the library, which can be reinstalled wherever the library ends up getting moved.
And sometimes it means going all in. The MAUSD plans to in 2020 update Mount Abe’s locker rooms — at an estimated cost of $1.9 million.
The district could have chosen to renovate the locker rooms one at a time, but tackling all four at once will not only satisfy Title IX, which requires equal treatment of male and female student athletes (and the facilities they use), but it will also save the district a pile of money — about a quarter of a million dollars, Davison said.
Renovating those locker rooms sooner rather than later also means the district can stop spending money on emergency fixes, like the ones caused last January by leaky pipes in the upstairs boys’ shower room, which led to a mold outbreak.

FitzGerald remembers the way he felt as a student when he arrived at Essex High School every day.
“I would drive up to the school and think, ‘You know, this place is pretty good,’” he said.
It’s a feeling he wants every Mount Abe student to experience.
“Some of these kids, they don’t have it all that great at home,” he added. “I want them to pull in here and feel like it’s all right. I want them to think, Safe. Clean. Home.”
During the two-and-a-half-hour tour, he and Davison spoke of Mount Abe as a “campus,” where the long approach from Airport Drive to the school building contributed just as much to the feel of the place as an interior paint job or a resurfaced floor.
Their way of looking at things also extends to the facilities staff.
“A mop fits in everyone’s hand,” FitzGerald said. “We’re making our crew accountable.”
The district has, he acknowledged, “suffered some separations, made personnel moves,” but he said that where the district’s current team is concerned, “everyone’s buying in.”
“We’re hiring nice and investing in training,” he said.
“Hire the person, teach the skill,” Davison added.
The Mount Abe team, supervised by the school’s facilities director, Mike Orvis, has gotten some help recently. Last year the MAUSD spent $40,000 on new equipment for its staff, about three quarters of which went to the high school, Davison said.
These may not be “sexy” expenditures, FitzGerald and Davison said, but they will have a significant impact on the look and feel of the school.
For instance, an ultra-quiet vacuum cleaner that doesn’t disturb students can be used during the school day, which means more vacuuming can happen, leading to a consistently cleaner school.

If FitzGerald and company are to stay ahead of the curve, the district and its residents will need to find a longer-term solution to the issues caused by Mount Abe’s aging infrastructure.
The longer they wait, the more expensive it’s going to get.
Knowing this, the school board, in partnership with community volunteers, will host conversations this fall in each of the district’s five towns — Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton, New Haven and Starksboro — and follow them up with “district-wide conversations designed to provide our community with the opportunity to have a meaningful voice in some of the difficult decisions facing our district, including facilities planning and possible school consolidation,” said MAUSD board chair Dawn Griswold.
“Success will depend [in part on] the opportunity to build trust, relationships and a positive shared vision prior to tackling the complex and emotionally difficult topic of facilities/possible school consolidation or re-purposing,” she added.
In the meantime, the Mount Abe facilities team will continue doing what it can to ensure that students see their school as “Safe. Clean. Home.”
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

Highlights from recent renovation work at Mount Abraham Union High School
•-The Bus Barn has gotten new siding, a new roof, a new concrete floor for the Driver’s Ed car, new workspaces and two “halftime rooms” for athletic teams ($201,000).
•-The “old trailer” has been removed and donated to a local community member.
•-The “White House” (which has been painted gray) has a new deck with stairs, a new wheelchair ramp, renovated classrooms and kitchen, and has been wired up to connect with the rest of the school.
•-The athletic fields got new batting cages, new dugout roofs and new goals.
•-All district schools have new public address systems that can be used remotely in the event of an emergency.
•-Security cameras are now web-based and will require less monitoring and maintenance. (Cameras and PA: $271,000).
•-New locks will be installed in all district classrooms over the coming school year.
•-The MAUSD hired Mountain Air to clean and tune up 48 air units.
•-The high school’s facility team did the same for seven rooftop units.
•-The district also purchased an air-quality probe so they can collect data at the first hint of an issue.
•-All of this work was accomplished according to a plan laid out by the H. L. Turner Group, which conducted an extensive indoor air quality assessment in all of the district’s schools last spring ($14,999).
•-The district hired a company that can clean every school’s carpets with less water and fewer chemicals.
•-Other cleaning equipment has been purchased with an eye toward efficiency.
•-Mount Abe’s pool will get a new filter next month, which will conserve energy and require less attention ($103,000).
•-New mats adorn the walls.
•-Bleachers got new wooden seats and risers.
•-Ceiling tiles were replaced.
•-New doors with code-compliant crash bars have been ordered ($14,000).
•-New mobile circulation desk, decorated with the silhouette of Mt. Abraham, built by Silver Maple Construction ($38,000).
•-New computer carols, also built by Silver Maple Construction.
•-The adjacent classroom was upgraded with new paint, furniture and LED lighting.
“The flow has really opened up,” said Library Media Specialist Debra Bobilin. “There are more spaces in the library now.”
•-The floors tiles were stripped and re-sealed.
•-Four air-handling units were serviced.
•-The walls got new paint and new mats.
During last week’s tour, a teacher paused from activities in the wrestling room to come out in the hall and tell FitzGerald how “amazing” the room is now.
•-Reusable stall partitions, with closing doors, were installed ($40,000).
•-New code-compliant electric soap dispensers, faucets and air dryers are motion sensitive.
•-The Metal Shop got a new welding vent, which will improve air quality.
•-Damage to the upstairs and downstairs boys’ locker rooms, which had been caused by leaky pipes last winter, has been repaired, and new moisture-resistant ceiling tiles have been installed.
•-The cafeteria has a new serving line. “It’s not sexy,” said district business manager Floyd Davison, “but it keeps food warm.”
•-There are new beds in the nurse’s office.
•-The stairwells have new code-compliant evacuation chairs.
•-Doors are getting repainted throughout the school.
•-In Fiscal Year 2018, the school got $500,000 in new furniture.

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