Wilder School Renovation Plans Would Bring Special Programs on Campus

  • An artist's rendering shows renovations to the Wilder School -- the Hartford School Board is asking for a $5.4 million bond to do the work. (Courtesy Hartford School District)

Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 08, 2019

White River Junction — Hartford residents at Town Meeting will be asked whether to approve a $5.4 million bond to renovate the Wilder School, the Norwich Avenue facility that houses the town’s Regional Alternative Program for students with behavioral issues.

The project would make the 107-year-old building compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and replace or repair its roof, electrical and lighting systems, flooring, windows, walls, and more. The renovations would help narrow the school’s physical classroom sizes — now widely considered cavernous and unwelcoming — and allow Wilder School to combine resources under one roof with the Hartford Autism Regional Program, which serves students with autism and other developmental disabilities. The autism program currently operates off-campus on Palmer Court.

Because of state funding and contributions from other towns that send students to the school, Hartford’s cost would be $21,300 over 20 years, according to a slide presentation delivered by Wilder School Building Committee member Doug Heavisides on Monday as Hartford opened its 2019 Town Meeting Cycle with a warrant information night at Hartford High School. That would amount to a tax increase of $2 per $100,000 of home valuation, or $5 per $50,000 of income for residents enlisted in the state’s income sensitivity program.

“In my eyes, $2 is peanuts for what we’re going to get and what those students deserve,” said Heavisides, who attended five years of elementary school in the building, according to a CATV video of Monday’s meeting.

If approved by voters on March 5, construction could begin when the school year lets out in June and would likely be finished in time for the 2020-21 school year, Heavisides said.

The Regional Alternative Program currently serves 35 students at Wilder School, while the autism program serves 16 students in a small former copy-and-print shop on Palmer Court. The two programs already share a nurse, and housing them together would reduce travel and allow them to combine resources such as a lunch program while maintaining separate curricula, the committee’s presentation said.

“From a cost-benefit perspective, combining resources is a huge plus,” committee member David Harris said in a Tuesday phone interview. “That will help keep costs down, when everything is happening in one location.”

Formed in 2017 to address the decaying state of the building, the Wilder School Committee also had weighed options including “mainstreaming” Wilder School students into one or more existing Hartford schools, constructing a new building or renting existing building space in the Upper Valley.

“This option was, by far, the most cost-effective and does the best job giving students what they need,” Heavisides said at the meeting.

During the meeting’s question and answer period, Larissa Dreyer, of Quechee, asked if there was a backup plan if the bond vote were to fail. Heavisides replied that the committee would then be “back to the drawing board,” but he noted that transferring alternative program students to one of the town’s elementary schools is not being considered.

“There is not enough space at any one of those schools. So there is no ‘plan B,’ ” said Heavisides, a statement that drew a applause from one portion of the audience.

Prior to Heavisides’ presentation, Hartford School District Board member Peter Merrill introduced a measure to go before voters at Town Meeting to decide whether the district should purchase a 3,069-square-foot home on 0.6 acres at 71 Highland St., adjacent to the Superintendent’s office and a softball field.

The district — which already is in a purchase and sales agreement for $315,000 with current owners Timothy Covell and his children — would pay $96,000 initially followed by several payments of around $71,300, Merrill said. All of the funding would be derived from the Hartford School District’s operating budget, Merrill said.

Next up in Hartford’s Town Meeting Cycle is a public hearing for bonds on Feb. 5.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.