Sharon considers $10 million bond for school renovation

One-on-one paraprofessional Deb Boles works with a student on a math lesson in and entryway that has been converted to a classroom for their use at Sharon Elementary in Sharon, Vt., on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. Students and staff traveling between the main school building and a temporary classroom structure nearby often interupt Boles and her student by walking through the space. The Sharon School Board is proposing to renovate and expand the 1989 Sharon Elementary building and replacement the temporary classroom with a permanent, attached structure. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

One-on-one paraprofessional Deb Boles works with a student on a math lesson in and entryway that has been converted to a classroom for their use at Sharon Elementary in Sharon, Vt., on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. Students and staff traveling between the main school building and a temporary classroom structure nearby often interupt Boles and her student by walking through the space. The Sharon School Board is proposing to renovate and expand the 1989 Sharon Elementary building and replacement the temporary classroom with a permanent, attached structure. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

Pre-kindergarten teacher Blaise Smith helps student Sofia Haac get ready for play time outside as Gwendolynn Ogreen, left,  Jack Bissell, second from right, and Cohen Bedford, right, get into their winter clothes in a temporary classroom building on the Sharon Elementary campus in Sharon, Vt., on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. The building, which houses two pre-k classrooms and  occupational, physical and speech therapy spaces, was installed in 2012 and originally meant for only five years of use. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Pre-kindergarten teacher Blaise Smith helps student Sofia Haac get ready for play time outside as Gwendolynn Ogreen, left, Jack Bissell, second from right, and Cohen Bedford, right, get into their winter clothes in a temporary classroom building on the Sharon Elementary campus in Sharon, Vt., on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. The building, which houses two pre-k classrooms and occupational, physical and speech therapy spaces, was installed in 2012 and originally meant for only five years of use. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News Photographs — James M. Patterson

Gwendolyn Ogreen, left, and Adaline Sabonis, second from left, lead their pre-kindergarten class up the sledding hill on the grounds of Sharon Elementary, built in 1989, on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. The Sharon School Board is proposing to renovate and expand the building. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Gwendolyn Ogreen, left, and Adaline Sabonis, second from left, lead their pre-kindergarten class up the sledding hill on the grounds of Sharon Elementary, built in 1989, on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. The Sharon School Board is proposing to renovate and expand the building. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Mary Lawrence, a student assistance professional, works in a storage room at Sharon Elementary in Sharon, Vt., on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023, where she shares space one-on-one meetings with students with the school's behavior specialist and the school counselor. There is also a counselor's office that can accommodate small groups, or one-on-one meetings when scheduling allows. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Mary Lawrence, a student assistance professional, works in a storage room at Sharon Elementary in Sharon, Vt., on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023, where she shares space one-on-one meetings with students with the school's behavior specialist and the school counselor. There is also a counselor's office that can accommodate small groups, or one-on-one meetings when scheduling allows. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Pre-kindergarten teacher Lindsey Schell helps Olivia Machia, middle, and Ines Guerlain, right, put on pipe-cleaner and jingle bell bracelets that they made in class at Sharon Elementary on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. A proposed renovation plan for the school would relocate the pre-k classes from a temporary classroom building to the original school, and replace the temporary structure with a permanent building. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Pre-kindergarten teacher Lindsey Schell helps Olivia Machia, middle, and Ines Guerlain, right, put on pipe-cleaner and jingle bell bracelets that they made in class at Sharon Elementary on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. A proposed renovation plan for the school would relocate the pre-k classes from a temporary classroom building to the original school, and replace the temporary structure with a permanent building. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

By LIZ SAUCHELLI

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 12-05-2023 4:25 AM

SHARON — The Sharon School Board is preparing a roughly $10 million proposal to renovate the town’s elementary school to provide permanent preschool classrooms and additional space for students.

Earlier this year, a committee that included board members, school staff and community members began meeting to discuss the future of Sharon Elementary School, which was built in 1989 and has been largely untouched since.

The number of students who attend the school has been rising.

When it was built, there were 68 enrollees.

This year, there are 161 children in preschool through sixth grade, according to data provided by White River Supervisory Union Superintendent Jamie Kinnarney.

“Sharon’s situated in an area where we’re right by the interstate, we’re in striking distance of Lebanon and Hanover, the work centers,” School Board Chairman Will Davis said.

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An additional draw for some families is that Sharon offers school choice, meaning that once students complete sixth grade at the elementary school, they can choose where to attend junior high and high school.

“It’s a nice little town with a good school,” Davis said. “We anticipate we’re not going to have a decline in population here.”

Residents will have an opportunity to learn more about the renovation project during a public forum Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the school, which is tucked off Route 132. Child care will be provided and a free dinner will be served at 5 p.m.

While the renovation proposal addresses a variety of needs, one of the most pressing is the preschool classrooms. Since 2012, Sharon Elementary’s preschool students have been taught in temporary classrooms that are separate from the main building and are well-beyond their intended five-year lifespan.

“We have a pretty urgent need with our pre-K building,” Davis said. “It’s in pretty bad shape. That’s one of the main drivers.”

The renovation proposal also calls for additional classroom and office space; security improvements, upgrades to the HVAC and electric systems; and other building improvements including new windows and ceiling tiles.

“Right now, we have kids being taught in breakout spaces that are being held in vestibules,” Davis said, adding that there is no dedicated space for occupational and physical therapy. “They have tables and chairs set up in the hallway. There are closets that have been converted into meeting space for kids and teachers.”

Security improvements will include relocating the main office to where the library currently is, which will allow staff to better monitor the parking lot so that they are more aware of who is approaching the building. Additionally, new entrances will be secured with a key card system.

“We’ll be improving glass to be, I hate to say it, but bullet resistant,” Davis said.

A new library would be built in another space in the building, he added.

For funding, the project committee recommended that the School Board approve a warrant article for a 20-year bond to go before voters at March’s annual school meeting.

A property owner with a home valued at $200,000 could see a $505 increase in their school taxes if a $10 million bond is approved, according to data provided by the Sharon School Board.

At this year’s school meeting, voters approved a $5.88 million school budget for the current fiscal year.

The bond request would be for the majority of the cost of the project, as the Sharon School District has not put much money aside to pay for future renovation projects.

“There’s very limited capital improvement funding that’s been saved,” Davis said, adding that there was around $60,000 in the fund, part of which went to upgrade to install LED lights at the school.

The School Board is working on developing a capital improvement plan that would ask voters to set aside money each year for future building needs.

“That’s part of what we hope to improve upon in the future,” Davis said.

Some residents, including Joseph Ronan, are concerned about the cost and scale of the task force’s proposal.

“They’re probably well-intentioned, but I don’t think they’ve done a good job of explaining to people why this project size is a good project size for the town,” Ronan said.

Ronan, who previously served as chairman of the Sharon Selectboard, said he’d like to see an independent consultant review the proposal and provide feedback before it goes to voters. He would also like to see the vote postponed to November 2024 to give residents more time to consider it.

“I’m not opposed to doing the project and doing it at a level that makes sense,” Ronan said.

If Sharon voters approve a bond at Town Meeting, they would start to see an impact on their tax bills beginning in fiscal year 2026.

Construction could begin in June and if all goes according to plan, would be completed the following May, Kinnarney said.

Students would be able to stay in the school during the renovation.

“We’ve done a lot of creative thinking and our sense is we’re going to be able to house our students in the current infrastructure,” he said.

While the committee discussed breaking the project into phases, members ultimately decided it was best to present the project to voters as a whole, Davis said. One of the reasons for that was concerns about construction costs, which are expected to continue to rise.

“If the bond vote is defeated, it’s still going to be on us for how we’re going to deal with temporary classrooms that have now been there a decade; how we’re going to house our pre-K moving forward,” Kinnarney said.

Those who are planning to attend the dinner before Thursday’s forum and/or have childcare needs are asked to email khaley@wrvsu.org to RSVP. More information about the project can be found at sharonelementary.org/en-US/building-proposal-b3d7aaef. Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.