Friday February 8, 2013

DAWSON RASPUZZI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Bennington School District committed to pay another $28,000 for architects to continue designing an addition to Bennington Elementary that will lead to a bond vote in June.

June 4 bond vote

A timeline created by Centerline Architects for the project estimated to cost from $4.6 to $5.2 million identifies June 4 as the latest date a positive bond vote could occur for the project to be completed by the start of school in fall 2014.

An addition has been determined by the school board to be the best solution for a looming elementary classroom shortage in town, which is projected to peak in 2015 when the three elementary schools are projected to be short five classes. Last week the board was presented four options, of which they eliminated the least and most expensive. The option spoken about most favorably, budgeted at $5.2 million, would add 13,000 square feet of new construction in the area of the connecting hallway between the two main buildings. The less expensive option that remains on the table would build a 10,000-square-foot addition on the southeast corner of the school.

The timeline given to the school board on Wednesday identified May 7 and June 4 as potential dates to hold a special vote on a bond. The board felt May would not give it enough time to educate the public on the need for more classrooms and ancillary space at the school.


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By choosing June, however, the board had to approve spending another $28,000 for Centerline to continue working on schematic designs in order to hit the August 2014 completion date.

When the board accepted Centerline's $152,000 bid for designing the project in January, the district initially agreed only to pay $8,000 to come up with a preliminary design and cost estimate so that the board could ask voters to approve the bond in March. After construction estimates came in twice as high as expected, the board decided to push back the vote to allow more time to hold public forums and explain the need for additional space to residents.

Centerline has already done $8,000 worth of work, according to Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union Chief Financial Officer Richard Pembroke, so if the board did not approve an additional payment design work would have been at a standstill until June, likely pushing back the completion date of the project.

Additionally, the district needs to determine how the building being situated in a flood plain will affect construction, as well as whether it is allowed to alter the entrance off Park Street, because it is considered a historic site.

Since the estimated pricetag of the addition was published, some community members have written letters to the Banner proposing BSD send its fifth graders to Mount Anthony Union Middle School. Board member George Sleeman said that proposal needs to be vetted again publicly.

"Even though we've discussed it, we as a board should have at least one of our meetings to air all of these items to anybody who wants to come air them out," Sleeman said. "People ask about it and we should be discussing it and talking about it."

Laurie Cohen agreed the board could explain the reasons it favors an addition over sending the fifth grade to the middle school and using other off-campus space, but added that those discussions have taken place regularly over the past year at public meetings.

"We don't control the use of the MAU buildings," Cohen said. "For people who come along and throw darts right now and say, ‘Why aren't they thinking about this? And why aren't they thinking about this?' Where they hell have they been?' We have talked about the fifth grade going up to the middle school. It's not going to happen. The middle school does not want our fifth graders."

That notion was disputed by MAU Chairwoman Sean-Marie Oller Thursday, who said since an advisory vote last March illustrated that towns other than Bennington do not want to send their sixth grade students to the middle school the board has been open to discussing Bennington's fifth grade. The topic was brought to an MAU Education Committee meeting by Ken Swierad, who is chairman of the BSD board and the MAU Education Committee, however the option was not discussed, Oller said.

"We're not opposed to looking at it. Ken said we didn't need to talk about," Oller said. "I have been saying we need to put an agenda item for MAU of how could we accommodate the fifth grade from BSD or what is our plan going forward?"

Oller said while all of the space at the middle school is being used -- some for ancillary programs that were not planned to be in classrooms -- space could be made available for more students.

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at craspuzzi@benningtonbanner.com or @dawsonraspuzzi on Twitter.