Saturday December 8, 2012

DAWSON RASPUZZI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- The Bennington School District will open bids later this month from architects seeking to draw plans for a 10,000-square-foot addition to Bennington Elementary School.

The board has yet to decide whether it will go forward with the addition, which would require a voter-approved bond for an estimated $2 million to $2.5 million. But it appears to be the most feasible solution to a looming classroom shortage, officials say.

A request for bids to design the addition was put out last month. Those bids are expected to be opened Dec. 19 and if the board wishes to proceed it will award a contract at its Jan. 2 meeting, according to Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union Chief Financial Officer Richard Pembroke.

Pembroke said at Wednesday's school board meeting that there has been significant interest in the project, including inquiries from three or four local companies.

The idea for the addition was first proposed in 2007. It would be built on the east side of Bennington Elementary, where the playground is. The two-story construction would likely include eight classrooms and be completed prior to the start of school in the fall of 2014, when the district is estimated to be short three classrooms. The following year BSD anticipates a shortfall of five rooms. A space shortage is expected to persist until 2020, according to student population projections.


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A preliminary analysis Pembroke presented to the board showed the addition would cost taxpayers approximately $540,000 a year during the peak enrollment when five additional teachers would be required. An addition of $540,000 would amount to a 3-cent increase on the district's tax rate.

The Vermont Bond Bank has a current interest rate of 2.95, which would create a maximum annual payment of $190,000 on a $2.5 million bond, Pembroke said. Five additional teacher salaries and benefit packages would cost another $350,000 annually, Pembroke estimated. The addition would also require a one-time expense of about $85,000 to furnish.

If a contract is awarded in January to design the building, the company will work with the SVSU business office to put a cost estimate together in time to include a bond vote on the Town Meeting Day ballot in March.

With voter approval, Pembroke estimated bids to do the construction would go out next September after blueprints are finalized. Those bids would be due in October and the project would be awarded in December. The work would then begin in the spring of 2014 with the expectation it would be complete by the start of school in September of that year.

The addition is just one option the board has considered in recent months as it looks for a short-term solution to solve the classroom space issues. Another option is tuitioning somewhere between 85 to 130 students to neighboring districts.

Pembroke presented the board a "very preliminary" financial analysis of tuitioning 83 of Bennington's students outside the district, which was a number chosen because there are 83 children who live in bubbles broken down in SVSU software as neighborhoods that border the school districts of Shaftsbury, Pownal and North Bennington.

If receiving districts charged BSD $8,900 per student, which Pembroke anticipates will be the base education spending per equalized pupil next year, BSD would have to pay $738,700 per year.

"So it's more per year, however you only need to do that for 11 years, theoretically, if your projections hold true," Pembroke said. "A bond payment is going to be for 20 years ... so it's close to even. However, you get 10,000 square feet at the end of a bond payment."

The tuition rate of $8,900 has not been discussed with any other districts, but tuition rates are not likely to be any less and may actually be greater, Pembroke said. A completed analysis will be done in time for the Jan. 2 BSD meeting, Pembroke said.

Another option BSD has explored is either renting space in town or possibly using the former Beech Street School building that now houses the SVSU administrative offices. At the request of the board, Town Building Inspector Larry McLeod walked through the former Beech Street School last month and advised the district of the changes that would have to be made to bring it up to code to use as a school. Among a long list of required upgrades would be a new sprinkler system, making the bathrooms handicap accessible, redoing the interior staircase due to its steep pitch, and other improvements.

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at draspuzzi@benningtonbanner.com or follow on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi