By Curt Peterson
Although plans for a new high/middle school complex in Woodstock have been growing for some time, many constituents are becoming aware of it for the first time — perhaps most in the six districts towns outside of Woodstock itself — Pomfret, Bridgewater, Plymouth, Killington and Reading (and Barnard, assuming they vote to join the district at the Dec. 10 vote.)
The Windsor Central Modified Unified Union School District (WCUSD) administration hopes its $68 million dollar “new build,” with renovations to existing remote campuses, will stabilize or grow the student population by attracting young families to the area.
On Nov. 25 the WCUSD board approved engaging Lavalee Brensinger Architects to perform a new build feasibility study with an estimated cost of from $425,000 to $450,000. Study financing will include $30,000 from unused ACT 46 grant funds and private donations, some requiring matching donations. Private donations to date total $235,000.
The administration hopes to use a 30-year bond to finance the new complex. The bond amount would reflect the cost of the project less the amount of private and public funding.
At a recent New Build Committee meeting, board co-chair Paige Hiller said she thought the goal should be a maximum education tax rate increase of 15-18%, and suggested the design and financing costs should reflect that goal. Recently the board has been hinting at revisiting the design as regards costs.
Assuming the board goes ahead with putting the project up for a vote (likely sometime after Town Meeting), the bond would need approval by the majority of voters in the district.
Killington resident and businessman Robert Montgomery doesn’t feel an entirely new facility is necessary – and says the resulting cost of the new build will be an undue burden on taxpayers.
“I feel I’m representing the interests of between 500 and 1,000 second-home owners in Killington,” Montgomery told the Mountain Times in a telephone interview. “And I’m getting involved because I’m a local taxpayer myself.”
Commenting on Vito Rasenas’s blog, “As the Ski Turns,” Montgomery invited readers interested in discussing the new build project to call him and register their concerns.
“I got more than a dozen calls before my voicemail box was full,” he said. “And they are still dribbling in.”
He said calls have come from Killington, Reading, Bridgewater and Plymouth.
“Most are learning for the first time about plans to build the new school,” he said, adding he thought the project has been kept “under the radar” until recently when a series of news articles have been published in local papers (and republished on Rasenas’s blog).
Montgomery moved to the area from Boston in the ‘70s. He and his late wife Diane built and ran multiple businesses in Killington. His son Whit is chief of the Killington Police.
Montgomery believes building a new school isn’t the way to improve education, he told the WCUSD board at Killington Elementary School on Nov. 25.
“We are doing a good job on STEM education now,” he said. “The private donations should be invested in those programs rather than bricks and mortar. That’s what will make ours a destination school system.”
WCUSD Facilities Manager Joe Rigoli will be executing tours of the existing campus on Dec. 4, 9 and 19 so interested people can see building conditions for themselves in the 1950s-built structures.
Montgomery is hoping to take one of the upcoming tours. As a former property developer and manager he feels he can lend an educated eye in evaluating what can be done to update and improve the buildings.
“Some of the callers who have taken the tour say it is very prejudiced toward replacement rather than refurbishing,” he said. “I want to see for myself.”
He has not seen the strategic plan, Portrait of a Graduate, published in early 2019, which concludes that remodeling existing buildings unfavorably compares with the new build alternative — based on both cost and outcome — and says he will leave that up to others who, he hopes, will spearhead the movement toward cost moderation.