Woodstock school officials explore replacing 62-year-old facilities

  • Members of the community gather at the Woodstock Union Middle School High School on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019 in Woodstock for a tour of the building. The Windsor Central Supervisory Union is hoping to replace the building. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — Jennifer Hauck

  • Windsor Central Supervisory Union Director of Buildings and Grounds Joe Rigoli shows community members the furnace room at Woodstock Union Middle School and High School on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019 in Woodstock, Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

  • Mary Beth Banios, Superintendent of Schools, left, and state Sen. Alice Nitka-D-Ludlow, listen during a tour of the Woodstock Union Middle School and High School on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019 in Woodstock, Vt. The Windsor Central Supervisory Union is hoping to build a new school. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

  • David Schwartzman, of Woodstock, Vt., looks over the water damage in a classroom at the Woodstock Union Middle School and High School during a tour of the building on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019 in Woodstock. The Windsor Central Supervisory Union is hoping to build a new school. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • An artist's rendering for a building that would replace the current Woodstock Union Middle School and High School buildings. (Courtesy Windsor Central Supervisory Union) Courtesy Windsor Central Supervisory Union

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/25/2019 9:46:19 PM
Modified: 12/25/2019 9:49:57 PM

WOODSTOCK — If Ben Ford and Keri Cole continue raising their two young children in Woodstock, the elder would enter Woodstock Union Middle School and High School around 2026, the younger two years later.

By then, Ford hopes, they’ll attend some version of a new campus — with 21st-century energy efficiency, up-to-fire-code sprinklers and learning spaces that are ergonomically and educationally inviting. School officials are considering those upgrades as they aim to replace what they say are outdated buildings that opened in 1957.

Toward that end, Ford, a member of the Windsor Central Modified Unified Union School District board, is co-chairing the committee exploring how, whether and when to pay for a project that would cost Woodstock and six surrounding communities more than $60 million to build. They don’t intend to present a plan for Town Meeting in March, but do want to move forward.

“Hopefully, we’ll have something to bring to the towns sooner than 2022,” Ford said last week. “The longer you hold off, the more potential you’ve got for higher cost.

“But before we (approach the contributing towns), we have a lot of pieces that need to fall into place.”

The biggest piece is finding sources of money. The Vermont Legislature suspended the state’s School Construction Aid Program more than a decade ago, and between the ensuing Great Recession and infrastructure expenses incurred after Tropical Storm Irene, lawmakers haven’t shown much appetite to share the cost of new schools for districts with declining enrollments.

“The state is going to open the discussion of whether we develop a plan for school-construction reimbursement again this session,” said state Sen. Alison Clarkson, D-Woodstock. “But even if we do come up with a plan, it’s going to take time. There was already a queue of districts with projects they wanted funded, and the line will just get longer.”

While waiting for a change of heart in Montpelier, and while fine-tuning the specifications, Woodstock-area school officials and their supporters are exploring a wide range of options.

“If we had another Irene, the current building is not equipped to be our emergency shelter,” Clarkson said. “We don’t have a generator that’s big enough, and we don’t have enough bathrooms to serve all the people who might be displaced. For help with that, it might help to look for federal support, a partnership with somebody like Homeland Security or FEMA.”

The building committee also is considering the sort of fundraising effort that hospitals, cultural centers and other nonprofits mount for construction projects.

“You kind of have to think outside the box,” Ford said. “I was talking with a family friend who was a superintendent of schools in New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts, and I asked him if he’d ever considered a capital campaign. He said, ‘I never had to do private fundraising for a public-school building.’

“Right now, we’re kind of down to that.”

Which is why, for now, the building committee has been conducting occasional information sessions that mix PowerPoint presentations of preliminary architectural plans — which envision raising the new building on the site of the current football field and re-siting the field, ringed by a 400-meter track, on the old school’s footprint — with tours of the existing, 139,000-square-foot structure.

More than two dozen people, including state Sens. Dick McCormack, D-Bethel, and Alice Nitka, D-Ludlow, attended such a session last week. Building committee members and school staff showed them deficiencies ranging from rusting doors and gaps in walls where mortar no longer connects bricks, to bathrooms ill-suited for disabled students and staff and classrooms that discourage shared learning.

“There’s been a lot of deferred maintenance over the years, here and all over Vermont,” Clarkson said. “School boards have been very resourceful in making do, but now they’re facing challenges of buildings in need. Unless they have a child in the schools or work there, not everybody sees their local school on a regular basis. If you don’t go regularly, you don’t see the problems, see the challenges.”

The problems and the challenges have been opening Ben Ford’s eyes since his election last March as one of six Woodstock representatives to the unified union school district board, which also has members from Pomfret, Barnard, Bridgewater, Reading, Plymouth and Killington. The more he looked into it, Ford said last week, the more he agreed with the consulting architects and engineers that building from scratch was more efficient, both in terms of cost per square foot and in educational value, than renovating and adding to the existing building.

“It’s a big disruption to the kids who are in the building if you’re doing that construction around them,” Ford said. “It’s longer and louder, and the finished product is vastly inferior.”

Selling the project both to Woodstock residents and their neighbors in surrounding towns, Clarkson added, will require “a very robust partnership” with a variety of private, state and federal sources of money.

“All that homework, we need to do now,” Clarkson said. “We have to be creative and thoughtful.”

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




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