BENNINGTON -- The Bennington School District board was presented Thursday with four schematic design proposals for additions to Bennington Elementary that all came in well above the anticipated $2.5 million.
Ranging in cost from $3.3 million to $6 million, each proposal presented by Centerline Architects would add at least five new classrooms and additional rooms for ancillary space for special education programs. Enrollment projections show BSD will be short classrooms from 2014 through 2020, peaking with a shortage of five classrooms in 2015.
The school board had expected to warn an article on the March ballot asking voters to approve a 20-year bond for upwards of $2.5 million, however it decided to delay asking for voter approval when the estimates came in much higher.
The two least expensive options were to build an addition of more than 10,000-square-feet off the southeast corner of the school where the playground is and create a vehicle pull off near the Park Street entrance. Adding to the south end of the building would decrease exterior play areas, may have an impact on the flood plain and would also create long walking distances from the addition to the north end of the building. For those reasons, and others, the board preferred the alternative options to build the addition in the center of the school as a new connector to the two main buildings.
The less expensive of the two centralized proposals is estimated to cost $5.2 million and would add 13,375 square feet and renovate an additional 2,570 square feet. The two-story addition would include one classroom on the first floor and four on the second floor. The plan also includes much needed rooms for special education, replaces the existing, undersized library, and space for administrative offices. A new main entrance into the school would also be created in the area of the addition, which would be accessible by a one-way drive connecting Park Street to School Street.
That drive would increase safety as parents pick up and drop off their children and help relieve congestion on Park Street. By including the administrative offices at that entrance it would also increase campus safety and visitor monitoring.
"The basic idea ... was to recreate a real entrance to the building," Gary Corey, Centerline's president and principal architect, told the board. "You've got these two separate pieces on either side (so the proposal would) actually start to make the school more compact and make it function better."
Surprised by how high the estimates came in, the board agreed it wanted to spend more time considering the options before warning an article to ask residents to support a bond greater than $5 million. The board also said it would be necessary to have more time to educate the public on the necessity for additional space than the month it would have until the March 5 vote if it warned the bond vote Thursday.
"I definitely believe we need to do something to Benn El, and it may be one of these things, but as for the annual meeting I think this is way too soon," Jackie Prue said. "This board has not spent any time educating the community about why we can't send the fifth graders to the new middle school, about the cost of tuitioning students to another school and what that will do to BSD ... and the community at large doesn't understand why we need the space, because a lot of the community that votes doesn't go into the schools. They haven't seen the cubicles that some of our special ed teachers use for classroom space."
Prue and others on the board recommended hosting forums and public tours of the school and then scheduling a special election asking for support of a bond later in the year.
Corey said by BSD's meeting next week he would come up with a timeline of when that vote would have to happen in order for the construction to be complete by the fall of 2014, which it would need to be in order to meet the space needs of the district.
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