On January 31, 2024

Seven years toward a new school

Dear Editor,

Editor’s note: this letter was written Monday, Jan. 29, and originally posted on the Barnard listserv. It is published here with permissions.

I’ve been reluctant to post anything because of my role on the School Board, but after seeing a number of posts on our, and other area listservs, I’ve gotten quite concerned with both the “Us versus Them” language that I am reading and the amount of misinformation in many posts.

The school board consists of 18 members from all of our member towns. Some of us have students in school, some do not, some coach in the District, some own businesses, some own houses, some do not, but we are all members of this community.

Furthermore, the study of how to address our failing school began in the fall of 2016, before any of our sitting board members were on the board. Between then and now, numerous community members have joined and left the Board, all volunteering their time to make this District the best it can be.

For seven years, members from different towns and different walks of life have weighed in, poked holes in the plan, suggested edits, called in specialists, and gotten second and third opinions, almost entirely at the expense of some generous local donors who are the only reason we have all of the information we have today. Through every iteration of the Board, when members come and go in March, there have been concerns about the project. But every iteration of the board has ultimately agreed to move forward with the plan for a new school.

The plan, over the years, has become less square footage, more modest conceptually, but still very focused on educational outcomes and supporting our amazing faculty who, miraculously, keeps our school ranked consistently in the top 5 (of 64) high schools in the state, even though our building condition is ranked 63 (of 64). All of these changes, all of the research and planning, have all happened because Board members are concerned community members, just like you. There is no “Us versus Them.”We are all one community and in this together.

My second concern is misinformation, stating that there needs to be more transparency from the school board. I’ve even been asked if the information on the website needs to be corrected because some issues being questioned on the listserv are answered in the FAQs on the site (mtnviews.org/breaking-new-ground). I worry that “lack of transparency” is being used to state that someone disagrees with the proposal. We’ve welcomed everyone’s opinions, which is why we’re still working on this seven years later.To be fair to those asking questions about bond rates and material costs, we don’t have those answers because no bank negotiates a rate until you have approval to borrow, and contractors don’t give locked-in quotes until they know you can pay them.

It’s simply the order of operations that all construction and school bond processes follow.We are unable to move forward any other way. What’s amazing to me is that through those local donations and the support of the taxpayers, we have not only been able to have a construction firm give us a detailed costing but have also paid a 3rd party firm to inspect and weigh in on these numbers.So, at this point, an architectural firm, the engineers, a construction management company, and 3rd third-party firm are all in line with the proposal(but have added $10 million in contingency included in the bond amount, just in case).

We can not say it’s 100% accurate, because we cannot ask companies to commit until the taxpayers approve the project.

Not everyone is going to agree with this approach to maintaining our community’s high school, and that’s ok; I’m more than happy to speak about renovations or closing it and moving our students somewhere else. I’m comfortable talking about it because we’ve been talking about it for seven years and we know the answers to what that might mean.

Let’s ensure we’re talking about building a new high school and leave the “Us versus Them” out of it. Instead of questioning transparency, if you have questions, ask them at one of the forums published on the site or email a board member(like me!).As one of your Barnard board representatives, I’m more than happy to answer anything I can or find the answers for you if I don’t know them.

If you want to help me get information out to your friends and family in the community about the project so they can make an informed decision on town meeting day, please reach out!

Thanks all, if you made it this far.

Bryce Sammel, Barnard School Board representative, parent, and coach

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