By Lola Duffort/VTDigger
Renovations are planned at the Slate Valley union district high school. The school board will be asking voters to approve a big construction project on town meeting day.
The school board in the Slate Valley Unified School District, which straddles Addison and Rutland counties, has endorsed a multi-school project that would renovate the high school, build a union middle school, and add on to one of the district’s local elementary schools.
The plan is currently priced at $64.5 million, although school officials say they expect a revised estimate to come in just under $60 million.
Many of the state’s high schools were built in the ’50s and ’60s and are showing their age. Slate Valley won’t be the only district with a big bond on the ballot. South Burlington’s school board is proposing an eye-popping $209 million to build a new combined middle and high school building. Voters in Burlington and Winooski have approved large building projects of late. And the school board in the Mad River Valley’s Harwood Unified Union District is scheduled to pick between a roster of options for reconfiguring its schools, which could include a bond for upwards of $40 million. And in St. Johnsbury, a $3 million bond was narrowly greenlit by voters Nov. 5.
The bond in Slate Valley would pay to renovate Fair Haven Union High, which administrators say faces a slew of deferred maintenance needs. Of particular concern is the school’s boiler, which officials say is original to the building.
“Prior school boards, they really tried to preserve personnel, and unfortunately didn’t have the funds to put into the building,” said Slate Valley Superintendent Brooke Olsen-Farrell. “So now we’re just at a critical point, where we’re worried about having heat to get through the winter.”
Particularly in newly-merged districts, school officials are increasingly proposing to create or strengthen union middle schools instead of continuing to educate the middle grades in local town elementaries. In the Slate Valley district, about half the bond would go toward building a union middle school attached to Fair Haven Union High for all of the five-town district’s 7th and 8th-graders. Officials say the change would create the critical mass necessary to offer robust programming for the middle grades.
The move would effectively shutter one of the districts’ schools – the Castleton Village School, which currently serves grades 6-8, since 6th graders would be moved to the Castleton Elementary School.
But officials say they want to re-purpose the space, and are at work on a potential partnership with Castleton University’s Early Childhood Lab. The university, which is part of the state college system, has indicated it would like to eventually site a child care facility at the Village School as it expands its programming, although talks between the district and college are preliminary.
Slate Valley’s bond, if approved, would also pay for an addition at the Orwell Village School, where students currently attend gym class and eat off-site in the town’s former meetinghouse.
Taken together, Slate Valley school board chair Julie Finnegan said the project would better equip the district to attract families with children into the area.
Administrators hosted a tour of the high school on Nov. 20 at 6:30 p.m. for folks to see the facility’s conditions for themselves.