Danville School is in for an even bigger building renovation — and, now, new construction project — than originally anticipated, and a community vote on a bond for the project may occur as soon as November.
That’s the consensus from Tuesday evening’s school board meeting, where the board heard an update from the project’s architecture firm, Burlington-based TruexCullins, and approved just over $66,000 in additional funding that will pay for surveys and architectural designs, as well as cost estimates for the full project.
The board originally allocated just under $65,000 for the firm’s services in late 2019, the Caledonian previously reported. The approved additional funding to cover the expanded scope of the project comes from the school’s surplus of unrestricted funds, currently around $130,000.
“At the end of this, you will have what you need to go to the bond bank and bond vote and ask the community to support what I think is a 21st-century renovation of the school complex,” Superintendent Mark Tucker told the board on Tuesday evening, noting that a bond for the school’s recent ventilation work did not need to be executed. “If you don’t [move ahead on this], you spent $65,000 and got nothing out of it except the story of how bad things really are.”
Richard Deane and Cam Featherstonehaugh, from TruexCullins, detailed for the board the work already completed and the need for a more expansive project. In short, Deane told the board that they found a “significant deficit of square footage” to meet the school’s basic needs.
The current school building consists of a hodgepodge of sections constructed as early as 1937 without a cohesive plan or vision. While renovation and a potential additional floor on top of the current building were originally on the table, Deane explained that, upon further investigation, the firm found that not to be a viable option.
“Some of the construction methods make it impossible and cost-prohibitive to renovate,” he told the board.
Two factors are driving current space needs.
First, many staff including specialists, coaches and interventionists have been tucked into any available space over the years, including into converted storage closets. Featherstonehaugh said that the staff needs more space to do their jobs effectively.
Second, the firm found that the current elementary classrooms are undersized for a modern school.
The current rough draft of a potential floor plan shows a new, 40,000-square-foot elementary wing to the west of the existing building, where the ball fields currently sit. A new auditorium would replace the current 1957 structure that currently houses the PreK and Kindergarten classrooms and a second gymnasium would also be constructed to meet the needs of the school.
The entire structure would be connected by a core hallway and like ages would be grouped together — all high school classrooms together, all elementary together, etc. — instead of the current arrangement that has them all mixed together.
School board members and the Danville School administration expressed initial support for the larger project, discussing the need to keep a playground near the ball fields and to coordinate traffic needs with VTrans.
TruexCullins’ goal in the weeks ahead is to assemble further information and develop a reliable cost estimate to put forward to voters, potentially as soon as November.
“We didn’t initially imagine that we’d get a new elementary wing, a second gym, a whole new auditorium … but I think those are all things that are appropriate to bring the school into the 21st century, where we are now,” said Tucker.
The school board also discussed needed repairs and modifications to the school’s wood chip boiler, which was initially installed in 2007 and fully functioned for only a couple of years. Supervisory union staff are “cautiously optimistic” about finding an additional FY21 surplus that could be used toward the repairs, but advised that a decision should be tabled until the books are officially closed on the fiscal year.
A functional wood chip boiler would majorly cut down on the school’s fuel needs and costs.
“It’s not rocket science to figure out that we should fix this plant; it’ll pay for itself over a reasonable period of time,” Tucker told the board. “But it’s a cash flow question right now.”
Initial estimates indicate about $224,000 needed for work on the wood chip boiler with $40,000 already available in a grant approved by Efficiency Vermont and other grants being looked into. Bill Karis, with Efficiency Vermont, noted that even if costs came in on the higher side with no grant funding, the project would pay for itself within five years.
The board’s next regularly scheduled meeting is set for Sept. 7 at 6 p.m. However, board members indicated that a special meeting on funding for the boiler project could be held earlier if the needed financial work is completed.