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Woodstock schools outdated

  • School officials say Woodstock Union High School and Middle School, built in 1957, needs an overhaul or a complete replacement at a cost ranging from $46 million to $77.5 million. (Courtesy photograph)



 Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, May 24, 2019

WOODSTOCK — School officials say Woodstock Union High School and Middle School, built during Dwight Eisenhower’s second term as president, needs an overhaul or a complete replacement, with cost estimates ranging from $46 million to $77.5 million.

A master plan that the Windsor Central Supervisory Union unveiled earlier this month, after a two-year exploration of needs and options, recommends either renovating and adding to the existing complex, or building new.

The plan advises against simply renovating the existing facilities of 139,000 gross-square feet on Route 4 in West Woodstock, which opened in 1957.

The team that assembled the master plan notes that while the minimum-level project (at $46 million to $51 million) would cost less than would a combined renovation and expansion ($70 million to $77.5 million) or an outright replacement ($58 million to $66.5 million), it would solve few of the school’s long-standing structural and environmental problems and prolong a lag in meeting the educational needs of students in the 21st century.

“This is a building that has served the (district) communities well, but has outlived its useful life,” Superintendent Mary Beth Banios said on Thursday. “And the way we teach and learn has changed since the 1950s and early 1960s. The spaces we need to prepare kids for work and for college need to change.”

In the eyes of veteran middle-school science teacher Ryan Becker, the current building, with small classrooms off a central hallway, lacks the types of common spaces that would allow teams of teachers and students to work together on projects in the “neighborhood” format that is becoming more common in education.

“We’re kind of locked into a footprint that makes it hard to do,” Becker, who grew up in Bethel, said on Friday. “You’re forced to work with small groups that are segmented from each other.

“A new build in particular would allow us to think strategically about making the learning environment more of a community.”

The school district — encompassing Woodstock, Barnard, Pomfret, Bridgewater, Reading, Plymouth and Killington — is giving itself time to explore and refine the building options, while waiting to see whether the Vermont Legislature will lift its suspension on reimbursements for school construction projects.

“It would be challenging” to tackle the project without state support,” Banios said, adding that in the absence of a reimbursement formula, “we would have to look at private funding and private donations.”

The district school board is scheduled to decide which option to pursue, if any, during its 6 p.m. meeting on June 10, in the library of the high school.

“One of the things we need to discuss is, ‘Is it even fiscally feasible for us?’ ” Board Chairwoman and Woodstock resident Paige Hiller said on Thursday. “This has been a long conversation, three years so far.

“We’d like to know what our funding possibilities are within the next year.” 

In the meantime, according to the project’s online master plan, “There are a number of pressing … issues which have health and safety, programmatic as well as operating cost implications that now require a long-term solution facility.”

Among the problems the plan points to are non-accessible bathrooms, undersized classrooms, a poor environment in the cafeteria, poor acoustics in the music room and security shortcomings, including the fact that cars park up against the building. 

Another issue is the lack of “a sprinkler/fire suppression system throughout” the middle school and the high school.

“Without sprinklers,” the master plan said, “the entire school must adhere to ...  much more stringent Fire/Building Code criteria,  including requiring classroom doors to be closed at all times.

That limits air circulation and connectivity to others in the building and prohibiting the display of student work in school hallways, the plan said.

The committee also said that “the current roofs in both the MS and HS were not built for current snow and drift load requirements.”

Hiller said that until the committee started surveying the schools’ structural problems, she hadn’t particularly noticed “glaring needs” during her 15 years on the district board, much of which coincided with her two daughters’ time at the middle and high schools.  

“As a parent, I was looking at the school first and foremost in terms of the quality of the teachers and the curriculum,” Hiller said. “That’s my first concern for my children and the other kids who go to school there. But now we’re at a turning point, where we need to make a brave decision, not based on aesthetics but for coming up with a facility that will be able to educate them for the next couple of generations.”

People can visithttps://www.wcsu.net/school-facility-plan to view the master plan.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.