On August 12, 2020

Board votes to move forward with new Woodstock middle/high school design, commission cost estimate

By Curt Peterson

Is support for the proposed new Woodstock middle/high school fraying? Or do a growing number of questions merely indicate increasingly careful consideration of the $60-plus million building? Either way, project proponents seem stalwartly committed to seeing it through and the board voted to support the current design plan voting this last Tuesday to commission a true cost estimate for the project.

At the Aug. 3 meeting of the Woodstock Central Unified Union School District (WCUUSD) Board, a motion to have Leigh Sherwood’s firm, Lavalee Brensinger, prepare a schematic estimate for building the new middle school/high school complex for $137,000 inspired lively discussion. Until now the board has been working with rough estimates prepared by Sherwood in the spring of 2019. Since that time the proposed location for the school and the overall design and scope of the project has changed, and unforeseen costs for storm water mitigation have been revealed.

The motion eventually passed 10 votes in favor to five opposed.

Board vice-chair Pam Fraser (Barnard) said “financial sustainability” is still up in the air, and taxpayers need to know more about it.

Bob Coates (Pomfret) said the proposed Sherwood figures would give the board necessary “final cost estimates to take to taxpayers.”

But buildings and grounds committee chairman Jim Haff (Killington) was not in favor of moving forward with receiving cost estimates without knowing what future requirements may be as a result Covid-19.

Ford said additional growth space is provided by a second story in the newest (February 2020) design. That part was added when the state required the new facility to cover the same “footprint” – square footage on the ground –  as the existing structure due to proximity to the Ottauquechee River.

By today’s storm, flood plain and river setback standards, the originally proposed building could not be permitted as planned. So a new designed (February 2020) with the same footprint as the existing building with a second floor has since received verbal approval from the state.

Haff said the design illustrates several “constraints” imposed on the building because of location, suggesting the district might find another site instead “where the building we want” could be built.

Funds for design and engineering were provided by a private donor. The Mountain Times asked if changing the construction site effect the funding?

“No, the funding is not expressly limited to location,” Ford answered. “… but whether [the donor] would object to using the money on a different site is unknown,” he continued.

Moreover, Haff  suggested to the board that Johnson Controls, an international contracting firm, provide an estimate for an energy conservation upgrades, with estimated costs and potential savings, for all the district’s campuses. There would be no charge to the district  for this information– thus, no cost to taxpayers. (See related story on page 4.)

Their proposal, Haff said, would include retrofitting of the existing middle/high school building to meet safety and health standards.

Haff said he believes occupying the proposed new middle/high school building may be at least two, and maybe as many as five years away and Johnson’s proposed modifications to the existing building would provide energy savings and confront serious current air quality, comfort and health issues in all the existing buildings much sooner.

Ben Ford (Woodstock), chairman of the New Build Committee, told the Mountain Times he thinks Haff’s estimated timeline for the new school is inaccurate.

“That would not be consistent with the timelines presented by the architect, the Strategic Plan, associated goals, or the decision by the board to explore the new build option vs. the other options presented,” Ford wrote in an email. “ … I would not support significant interim investments in the existing facility other than those needed to address the health and safety of our students and staff.”

Addressing Haff’s advocacy for retrofitting the existing school, Ford wrote, “… as we prepare to return to school amid this pandemic, the known air quality issues in the building are causing problems that we need to solve – problems that we wouldn’t have if we were putting our kids and teachers back into a modern building with working ventilation and HVAC systems.”

TPVS

The Prosper Valley School (TPVS), which has been closed since the fall of 2018 over moisture and non-toxic mold issues, will get its needed dehumidifying system. Buildings and Grounds director Joe Rigoli said contracts for installing the unit were awarded to New England Air Systems (unit) and Control Technologies (installation) at a total cost of $71,400 –$13,600 less than the amount budgeted without contingencies.

Because of Covid-19 production issues, Rigoli said, there is a 10-week wait for delivery of the equipment.

Other costs involved in readying TPVS for students are $40,000 for “bare bones” necessary work, Rigoli said, and acting superintendent Sherry Sousa estimated human resources would cost between $116,000 and $150,000, depending on whether the school prepared food in-house or used an outside source.

“And that’s without including teachers,” Sousa added.

Whether or not TPVS ultimately houses students this academic year depends on a number of factors.

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