Woodstock races to prepare school’s balky heating system for another winter as vote on new school building looms

An artist's rendering shows the proposed new Woodstock high school building that would be built next to the existing ice rink. (Courtesy Mountain Views Supervisory Union)

An artist's rendering shows the proposed new Woodstock high school building that would be built next to the existing ice rink. (Courtesy Mountain Views Supervisory Union) Courtesy Mountain Views Supervisory Union


Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 09-17-2023 2:38 AM

WOODSTOCK — Fundraising efforts for a new Woodstock Union Middle and High School building have crested the $3 million mark, according to Mountain Views Supervisory Union officials.

Voters in the supervisory union — which includes the towns of Woodstock, Barnard, Bridgewater, Pomfret, Reading, Killington and Plymouth — will be asked in March 2024 to approve an $85 million bond to fund construction of the new building, said Ben Ford, the School Board’s vice chairman.

Meanwhile, the supervisory union’s buildings and grounds crew is working overtime to brace the school’s existing 60-year-old structure for the upcoming heating season.

Last March, the supervisory union’s voters gave approval to replace the aging steam system with a $1.3 million hot water heating alternative. The high school portion of the building weathered “multiple failures” last winter in its steam heating system, said Joe Rigoli, buildings and grounds director.

The 2021-2022 school year saw upwards of $150,000 in heating and cooling repairs, Rigoli said.

He hasn’t crunched the numbers on this past year’s repairs but said they likely put the supervisory union out again for about the same amount.

Maintenance workers have been putting in double shifts to replace the old system before cold weather sets in, Rigoli said.

“We’ve got about four weeks and, fingers crossed, we can get it done,” he said. “I’m fairly confident it can happen, but we’ll be working Saturdays.”

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Despite the price tag and the rush, the effort is being made in a building that some school officials hope will be demolished within the next five years. Last year, the Vermont Agency of Education ranked the Woodstock Union Middle and High School — which serves around 440 students — as having the second-worst facility condition in the state, based on the depleted value of the building. The agency recommended total renovation.

“So it’s just a Band-Aid,” Rigoli said about this year’s heating repairs. “It’s all for naught when we get a new building. This is just to guarantee that we can keep the doors open in the meantime.”

Still, he said he’s “desperate” for a new building. “No one’s as excited as I am.”

The plans include a two-story building that, like neighboring Union Arena — the country’s first net-zero indoor ice rink — could generate its own energy on-site through solar panels. The energy would be used to power a geothermal heating system, which in turn is expected save the supervisory union $22 million over a 40-year period, Ford said.

“This is a solid design that will meet our future needs and our current needs,” said Marlena McNamee, the project’s fundraising manager, about the high school plans. “And it’s not a so-called Cadillac school. It’s a Subaru, as far as pricing.”

Each private dollar raised will decrease the bond, McNamee said. Bonds are front-loaded with higher payment in earlier years.

“Our thinking is if we can get, say, $5 million before the payments start, it will give us a good jumpstart,” she said. “It won’t eliminate the bond, but makes it easier to repay.”

The supervisory union plans to host a series of tours of the current building, with a panel presentation including School Board members and the plan’s architects — Manchester, N.H.-based firm Lavallee Brensinger — later this month.

Tours, beginning at 6:30 p.m., are scheduled for Sept. 28, Oct. 26 and Nov. 28.

Frances Mize is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at fmize@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.