GMUSD trims facilities renovations and pushes voter approval to summer

School Board discusses budget approvals. Photo provided.

CHESTER, Vt. – During their Dec. 21 special meeting, the Green Mountain Unified School District board pared approximately $5 million worth of projects from Energy Efficient Investments’ proposed $21 million budget for their district school renovation proposal and agreed to postpone bringing the final project, which will likely require financing through a bond, to voters until the summer, rather than during the town meeting in March.

Michael Davey from EEI presented the detailed budget, which included about 18 pages of detailed information, and over 50 architectural drawings to accompany EEI’s facility upgrades and renovation proposal being considered for the three schools in the district: Green Mountain Union Middle High School, Chester Andover Elementary School, and Cavendish Town Elementary School.

Initially, during the Oct. 25 meeting, EEI had presented four options A, B, C, and D for the board to choose from as a starting point, with option A representing an all-encompassing version. At the conclusion of that October meeting, the board agreed to have EEI move forward with the fully comprehensive Option A for GMUHS minus the solar project on the roof; Option D for CAES with the addition of converting the oil tanks to propane, and adding pavement and bus drop off area modifications; and Option D for CTES with the addition of adding “ERV’s perimeter heat.” The total cost for all three schools totals $19,666,000 based on the estimates to date at that time.

After Davey finished his presentation during the Dec. 21 meeting, it became apparent that the board was confused about what direction EEI had been given during the Oct. 25 meeting. Board Chair Joe Fromberger said that some items in Option A, that were in this newest proposal, did not need to be included, such as an additional storage building, locker room renovation for Nurse and Guidance offices, an onsite softball field, and paving of the high school driveways and parking area.

Board member Abe Gross questioned a key component of the project, asking why they were replacing the unit ventilators with a new system rather than replacing with updated versions of the original equipment like CTES had done, and asked what those costs would be. Davey replied that he did not have those costs since that was not the direction he was given, with Gross replying that that was not his understanding of what had been decided at the Oct. 25 meeting.

Gross also asked that EEI provide a detailed breakdown of one line item which grouped together “ceiling, painting, asbestos removal, and flooring,” wanting to know how much of that $2,100,000 line item was for each category. The ceilings accounted for about $800,000 of that cost and Davey confirmed that they could avoid a lot of the ceiling cost and have exposed ductwork below the ceilings, which is an aesthetic that some people like.

Board member Rick Alexander asked for a breakdown of all materials versus labor costs for all proposed items and asked that an ROI, or return on investment, also be provided on large items such as a boiler, which would have a 20-year payback according to Davey, so taxpayers would have the information they need when asked to vote on such a large project.

Board member Mike Studin questioned whether they had a consensus to move forward with this project at all given that costs have been impacted due to Covid supply issues and that there was no urgency for the project. “To do [this project] when prices are maybe at their highest doesn’t make much financial sense,” he said.

Board member Dennis Reilly expressed his concern that prices will continue to go up and the school is “kind of crumbling from the inside.” Board member Deb Brown agreed, saying that certain things, like the boilers, needed to be done.

The board agreed to move forward by going through all the items and agreeing on which line items to proceed with and those they would either reject or request for additional information. It was here that Fromberger admitted that the process was going to take longer than originally planned and they would need to postpone going in front of voters until the summer.

Board member Lois Perlah suggested that spending money on the high school could be seen as a good investment since that could attract tuition students to the school.

The board agreed to move forward with approximately $10 to $12 million of the proposed $17 million in the GMUHS budget, including the softball field, but agreed to eliminate or reduce the following:

·      All new windows throughout the school for a savings of approximately $2.3 million;

·      Kitchen renovation for a savings of approximately $540,000, although they agreed to consider replacing certain equipment, once a breakdown and overview of what was essential was presented;

·      Sprinkler system for a savings of $700,000, although they would consider more targeted sprinkler solutions for theater space, kitchen, labs, and boiler rooms;

·      “Ceiling, painting, asbestos, and floor” line item, saving approximately $2 million, until those items were broken out;

·      Storage addition, saving approximately $180,000; and

·      Locker room renovation for nurse and guidance, saving nearly $400,000.

The board agreed to approve all proposed CAES proposed renovations with the exception of the pavement modifications suggested to help with the congestion of parent and bus pick up and drop off. The board’s objection was not based on the need for the project; rather, several board members did not believe that their proposed solution would address the problem. The CAES budget is priced at approximately $1.9 million without a solution for the drop off area. The board agreed to reach out to the town of Chester to see if they could somehow help solve the issue.

All proposed renovation items for CTES, totaling approximately $762,000, were all approved.

EEI will return to the board with revised breakdowns and other pricing when completed. The board will then decide which additional items, if any, to add back in to the budget.

The GMUSD next regular board meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 20 at 6 p.m., at the GMUHS library.


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