ARLINGTON — The Arlington School District Board is moving forward with planning a large facilities project that will help bring the district's two schools up to code.
The board hired Montpelier-based Black River Design in April for $19,500 to do the construction study. On Wednesday, Black River architect John Hemmelgarn made a presentation before the board.
Potential aspects of the project could include extensive work on the Arlington Memorial Middle and High School gymnasium; renovating the libraries at AMHS and Fisher Elementary School; re-doing the AMHS entry-way; installing a sprinkler system throughout the school; accessibility improvements; security improvements; and more. At the board's May meeting, Hemmelgarn warned that both AMHS and Fisher are not up to code on fire, energy efficiency, and accessibility. He said the gymnasium at the high school is the most important issue, and went so far as recommending that the gym be torn down, and a new one constructed.
"You have a very limited site on this real estate right here," said Hemmelgarn, "In an ideal world, you build a new gym and then tear down the old one, that way, you'd have the old gym right up until the day that you move into the new one. But you don't have that, you don't have the space... That gym almost has to go where the existing gym is."
He said the board could renovate the existing gym, but he said the scope of work necessary is significant, including an entire new roof. He said gym classes and basketball would be unable to be held in the gym for the duration of the renovation, which would last at least six to seven months. He said a construction schedule of April to November would mostly avoid the basketball season, but would still necessitate roughly five months of gym classes being held somewhere other than the gym.
"I'm know I'm dropping this right in your lap," he said to the board, "but it's way better to have these issues in our minds as we're talking about what you want to do and how you want to accomplish it."
"The focus on the conversation has become all about the gym," said board member Nicol Whalen, "and my concern is that this concept of a bond vote was about kind of a backlog of facilities projects that had not been addressed, like boiler, heating, the HVAC system, regulations that needed to be adhered to throughout both buildings, and modifications for use, like the front entrance and library. Now, what we're really talking about is the gym, and, as a community member, I'm concerned that, without a whole lot of education, we'll have a hard time getting buy-in (from the community) that that should be the focus of the project."
Hemmelgarn said the focus on the gym comes from the fact that most of the other projects are very straightforward, but that the gym involves several interconnected projects and is easily the most complicated and costly aspect of the project. "Even if you don't do something with the gym now," he warned, "someday that's going to have to come home to roost."
"The gym was important for me, only because of the roof," said AMHS Principal Tim Stewart, "and I've seen 20 foot icicles. It's a liability. That was the number one thing for me."
"The trick of it is getting the people to understand," said board Chairman Gerald Woodard, "If we spend $300,000 on that roof, we still have a building that, within who knows what period of time, we may have to tear down anyways."
Hemmelgarn suggested board members give him a budget that they think they'll be able to work on with him, as well as a list of priority projects, so he could start designing a plan.
Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union Superintendent Judy Pullinen pointed out that, should the gym wing of the school be renovated, they might consider single-person bathrooms, to be more friendly to families and transgender students. Hemmelgarn said three unisex, single-stall bathrooms would not meet the demands of the audience of a basketball game or graduation. He suggested instead enlarging the existing bathrooms, and adding one single-stall bathroom.
"We've got a lot of decisions to make in a short period of time," he said. If every single potential project were addressed, he said, the cost would be about $6 million, but not every piece is absolutely necessary to be completed at this time.
Board members threw around possible bond amounts between $2-3 million, but acknowledged that other organizations in town, such as the fire department, may been seeking bonds as well, and that they would have to keep in mind what the people of Arlington can bear. The suggestion to have two separate bond votes, one for the gym portion of the project and one for the rest of the work the board eventually deems necessary, was brought up as a way to give the voters more control over what the final project looks like.
Hemmelgarn said that if the district intends to get a bond vote done this year, everything must be ready to be submitted at least 30 days before the election on November 8. Board members agreed to meet at 4 p.m. prior to their August meeting to start hammering out details of the scope and cost of the project.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.