On May 20, 2020

New Woodstock school project plows ahead with Phase I study

By Curt Peterson

Leigh Sherwood and Lisa Picor from Lavalee Brensinger Architects (LBA) presented the Windsor Central Unified Union School District Board Zoom meeting with the results of “Phase I” of the proposal for a new middle/high school on the current campus in Woodstock on Monday, May 11. Cost estimates for the project approximate $68 million, to be financed through a bond issue requiring voter approval.

In Phase I LBA was to perform three tasks: Determine the appropriate building size, design for efficient learning and function, and assess whether the building can be placed on the proposed site.

The district had raised donations to cover the $130,000 Phase I price tag.

Close proximity to the Ottauquechee River and any ice flow or flooding issues for the new school were in the “professionals’” wheelhouse, the New Build Committee said, and they were confident any challenges were being met.

The Agency of Natural Resources river corridor map shows probable future river paths dissect the proposed site. The Dept. of Environmental Conservation River Corridor Easement Program responded to Tropical Storm Irene’s devastation of structures, roads and bridges, prohibiting new development within corridor areas.

In January board member Jim Haff from Killington, and Killington’s Town Manager, Chet Hagenbarth, had asked about water supply, flood plain restrictions, and storm water retention and treatment. Sherwood said these issues were yet to be resolved, but would be included in Phase I.

Sherwood explained the results of testing by Civil Engineering Associates of So. Burlington. David Marshall, CEA partner and 1980 alum of Woodstock Union High School, participated in the presentation.

River corridor and flood plain issues resulted in major changes in the project. To qualify for possible exemption necessary to build on the site, the new 162,000 square foot school must have the same footprint as the existing school, necessitating a two-story structure instead of the original one-story plan.

If the existing school didn’t occupy the site prior to the River Corridor Easement Program, siting the new school at this location would be prohibited.

The building site was also moved to avoid the flood plain.

Core samples, Sherwood said, indicate ground beneath the proposed site is well-suited for construction.

The football field in the flood plain may have a “grandfather” exemption, but a proposed new track may face regulatory opposition.

District Buildings and Grounds Manager Joe Rigoli told the Mountain Times Woodstock Aqueduct Co. assured him they have adequate water supplies for the proposed new school.

Asked if a second floor would require any additional expense, Rigoli said, “Depending upon the height/type/size of fire suppression system additional pressure might be needed. An engineer would need to answer that.”

Ground covered by impermeable surfaces and structures don’t absorb possible contaminated storm water, or “runoff,” which, without mitigation, would find its way into the water table and the river.

Haff asked how Phase I addressed run-off. Marshall said no specific designs had been created, but he is confident mitigation could be accomplished using retention ponds and treatment, but acknowledged that there could be significant costs involved.

Board member Ben Ford, from Woodstock, told the Mountain Times, “I don’t have a sense of the range of the potential costs [of mitigating run-off], so couldn’t tell you whether they are potentially significant or not.”

“The retention ponds can’t be in the flood zone or the river corridor,” Haff told the Mountain Times. “They said this would be addressed in Phase II.”

Governor Phil Scott cited a possible General Fund revenue shortfall of between $300 and $500 million and a possible Education Fund shortfall of $173 million during his press conference on May 17, which could affect taxes in a time of record unemployment.

When asked how he expects voters will react to a large bond issue in the post-Covid-19 pandemic economy in the seven participating district towns, Ford said: “If either the state or individual districts are able to spread the impact of the shortfall out over a repayment period, it would ameliorate the near-term impacts to taxpayers,” he said. “We’ll also need to see whether economic stimulus funding might be leveraged to help offset either impacts to taxpayers or project costs.”

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