By Katy Savage
Voters in the Slate Valley Union Unified School District (SVUUSD) are being asked to approve a $59.5 million 30-year bond on Town Meeting Day to build a new middle school, make a number of capital improvements and address infrastructure needs.
The SVUUSD serves children in Orwell, Castleton, Benson, Hubbardton, West Haven and Fair Haven. There are 1,365 students in the district, 200 of which would be in the new middle school.
Conceptual drawings of the new 54,000 square-foot middle school, located at the Fair Haven High School campus, show a one-story building with eight classrooms and four maker spaces with work kitchens, space for 3-D printers, music and video recording, engineering, woodworking, metalworking and robotics.
Construction of the new school could be completed as early as the fall of 2023.
A new $842,066 elevator would also be installed at Fair Haven Elementary School and heating and plumbing fixtures would be replaced at Fair Haven High School, among other improvements such as new windows, upgrades to the turf field, science classrooms and lockers.
Castleton Village School, which now has about 110 students, would close. The Orwell Town Hall would also be demolished to make room for an 8,200-square-foot addition to Orwell Village School, which would include a gymnasium and cafeteria.
But School Board chair Julie Finnegan said demolishing the 179-year-old town hall would require separate approval from the town of Orwell.
“We are more than willing to do whatever the Orwell town wants to do,” Finnegan said.
Finnegan said most of the requested bond money would address infrastructure needs.
“It’s not about it looking pretty,” Finnegan said. “It’s just getting things up to code and getting things in safe and healthy conditions. That’s the main part of the bond.”
Superintendent Brooke Olsen-Farrell said deferred maintenance challenges have impacted student learning. Boilers in the high school date back to 1957 and classrooms can reach as high as 100 degrees f, she said.
“The board’s been faced with declining enrollment, dire infrastructure needs and taxes that we want to try to keep down,” Olsen-Farrell said. “You can’t go on the same way and expect different results.”
Staff members would also be cut based on seniority if the bond is approved. Olsen-Farrell didn’t have an exact estimate, but said she expected staff cuts in the double digits, saving $1.5 million a year.
“We just can’t cut anymore without sacrificing more programming,” she said.
The SVUUSD Innovation Committee started looking at the challenges facing all of the buildings in October 2018.
If approved, taxpayers would spend about $5,400 a year on bond payments. A taxpayer with a $100,000 home will pay $265 more in taxes annually, or a taxpayer with a household income of $50,000 will pay $50 more in taxes annually.
Olsen-Farrell said Castleton College would likely lease Castleton Village School if it closed. Olsen-Farrell said she’s currently working with an appraiser to determine how much the district could charge for the lease.
If the bond is approved, Castleton Village 7th and 8th grade students will go to the new middle school. Castleton Village 6th grade students will go to Castleton Elementary.
“We want to attract people to our schools and to our area,” Olsen-Farrell said.
Aside from the bond, the proposed school district budget is $26.6 million, which is about a 4-cent increase over last year to $1.4911.