The new architectural plans for the new school call for a two-story, 163,000-square-foot building with a capacity for 700 students. Tours of the current school and its needs are ongoing.
By Katy Savage
The Woodstock Union Middle-High School building is at risk of complete system failure, according to District Buildings and Grounds Manager Joe Rigoli.
“We’re at the end of the lifespan of this building,” Rigoli said. “We’re at the point now where we’re beyond repair, it needs to be replaced.”
Rigoli said there are concerns about the roof structure, the heating system, air quality and moisture issues.
The Mountain View Supervisory Union has hosted multiple meetings and walk-throughs of the school as they plan to put a $80 to $85 million-plus bond to build a new school to voters in March.
About 50 people attended a building walk-through on Thursday, Oct. 26, with Rigoli leading a group through classrooms, the cafeteria, locker room, gym, auditorium and bandroom. The 1957 high school, which includes a middle school addition that dates back to 1968, is no longer functional, according to Rigoli. The roof above the gym has cracks in the corner from stress fractures due to the weight of snow and water. And, moisture is an issue throughout the building. The walls in some classrooms are degrading, indicating water is entering the building.
“We’re not quite sure how it’s getting into the building,” Rigoli siad.
In other parts of the school, windows from the 1980s weren’t installed correctly.
The school doesn’t have an adequate sprinkler system and it doesn’t meet ADA compliance. The building has one tiny cafeteria, which can’t fit many tables, causing most students to walk around or sit elsewhere when they eat.
The air quality, lighting and acoustics are uncomfortable throughout the building.
Rigoli pointed to the band room, which is enclosed with six layers of concrete.
“Directly above us is the gymnasium,” Rigoli said. “And as soon as kids start running, it’s thundering hoofbeats. You can hear it, it’s loud and it amplifies in here.”
Rigoli said a long stretch of hallway in the middle school doesn’t meet safety standards anymore.
“Kids lovingly refer to this as ‘The Green Mile,’” Rigoli said, referring to the long, awkward hallway with poor lighting. “It’s kind of like a jail.”
Aidan Keough-Vella, a junior in high school, said sometimes bathrooms and water fountains break and get shut down, making students walk to the other end of the building. Wi-Fi constantly cuts in and out, causing disruptions.
Keough-Vella said there are also inequities in the sports fields, with the girls feeling their practice facilities aren’t as adequate as the boys’ fields.
“I’ve heard from a lot of athletes on the girls’ teams, how they feel like their fields can just be kind of neglected at times and compared to the boys’ fields,” Keough-Vella said.
The dated heating system, which uses steam technology, is difficult to manage. Sometimes the building is too hot, sometimes it’s too cold.
School districts were asked to self-report their building conditions for a 2022 study by the Vermont Dept. of Education.
Woodstock reported an 89.2% depletion percentage, placing the school district the second worst in the state, behind Orange Southwest Unified Union School District, which reported a 90.5% depletion percentage.
The study found schools throughout Vermont are significantly deteriorating, with heating, windows, roof, electrical and plumbing issues.
Discussion around building a new school in Woodstock started in 2016, when a group started evaluating the facility. In 2017, the school secured $150,000 for the preparation of a facility analysis and master plan. In 2019, the school district used $200,000 in private funding for planning. In 2021, a schematic design was completed, estimating a new building would cost around $73.5 million. Then in 2022, the Woodstock Economic Development Commission granted funds to hire a part-time fundraising manager. In 2023, voters approved a $1.65 million bond for designing and permitting a new school.
The new architectural plans for the new school call for a two-story, 163,000-square-foot building with a capacity for 700 students. It would feature a multipurpose theater, a natural light-filled atrium and a double gym that opens for events if needed.
The new design also features solar panels on the roof and energy-efficient systems. It would be ADA compliant and have new sports fields.
The new school would also be located adjacent to the current school building. The school board plans to allow classes to continue in the old building until the new building is ready.
“We’re building a building that we hope will serve you for a solid 75 years,” said Leigh Sherwood, a consultant from Lavalle Brensinger Architects, suggesting systems could start failing at that time. “That doesn’t mean it won’t last 100 years.”
Sherwood said the architectural plans reflect a “future-ready” school, with flexible classrooms that can adapt to future technology and advances in education.
The school board is hoping students from neighboring districts will choose to go to Woodstock if there’s a new building.
“If we build it, they’ll come,” School Board vice chair Ben Ford said.
The new building will offer about 35,000 square feet of more space than the current school building.
People of all ages attended the walkthrough on Oct. 26.
April Pauly and her husband Ben of Woodstock carried their 6-month-old daughter, hoping she would get to attend the new high school one day.
Eddie English, a lifelong resident, was among the first student to graduate in the new building in 1963.
“We’re putting a Band-Aid on this old building,” English said, expressing the need for a new school.
However, English was concerned about how voters would feel about the cost of building a new school.
“I’m worried the bond might not pass,” he said. “There has to be middle ground.”
A final costing analysis of the new build will be ready in December to get the numbers on the town meeting ballot on March 5. If the vote is successful, an assessment will be added to homestead property owners’ education taxes within the supervisory union’s seven member towns. Homestead property owners making less than $138,400 receive credits of up to $5,600 a year to help reduce the amount due. Owners of a $400,000 property, making more than $138,400 would see an increase of about $100 a month during the first years of the bond repayment.