No Bennington school bond in March’s vote, but maybe later in 2013
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | February 04,2013
BENNINGTON — The Bennington School Board decided not to ask voters at town meeting for permission to bond for an addition to the Bennington Elementary School, which had been projected to cost $2.5 million.
However, board members at a meeting last week said they wanted to bring that request to voters at a special meeting this year, possibly as early as May, and the cost of the project is now expected to be closer to $4.6 million or $5.2 million.
The addition to Bennington Elementary, one of three elementary schools in the district, is planned to meet a projected “bubble” of enrollment growth. If the addition is built, it will add at least five classrooms and some other spaces, depending on what final design is chosen.
Members of the Bennington School Board, like Jackie Prue, continued to show support for the project Thursday but not for the timing of asking for support for a bond in March.
“This board has not spent any time educating the community about why we can’t send the fifth grade to the (Mount Anthony Union) Middle School, about the cost of tuitioning students to other schools. 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. I personally have heard from a bunch of people that they wouldn’t vote for it because they don’t know anything about it,” she said.
Prue suggested the School Board arrange for public meetings and tours of the facilities to explain the need for more space at the Bennington, Molly Stark and Monument elementary schools.
Another board member, George Sleeman, said he didn’t think the board had enough time to consider the proposal. Sleeman said he had also heard from voters who said they wouldn’t support a bond.
“I think it’s a mistake to warn this as part of our annual meeting,” he said.
The School Board spent much of Thursday’s meeting looking at preliminary designs explained by Gary Corey of Centerline Architects in Bennington. Corey showed the board four designs, two variations each on two different approaches to the project. The first would primarily add to the school’s south side while the second would expand the space along the central core of the existing school and add a connector between Park and School streets.
While discussions going back to the fall had estimated the cost of the project at $2.5 million, the estimates from Centerline ran from $3.3 million, for a plan that School Board members dismissed for accomplishing too little, to $6 million.
The two options for which the School Board members showed the most support were estimated to cost $4.6 million and $5.2 million.
Laurie Cohen, a School Board member, said she believed if the public saw the proposed plans, they would understand why the board is now asking them to consider a “lot more than $2.5 million.”
According to Richard Pembroke, chief financial officer for the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, the state is unlikely to provide any of the funding for the project.
“If you were to warn this thing right now, it would be with no construction aid,” he said.
Prue said she thought the School Board needed to handle the bond process well because there’s likely to be another construction project relatively soon to address the facility needs at Molly Stark.
The School Board’s next regular meeting is at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Bennington Elementary School. At the meeting, Corey is expected to give them an estimate of when their special meeting would have to be held in order to have enough time to build the addition for the start of the 2014-15 school year.