Addison County towns weigh $35M school renovation vote

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BRISTOL, Vt. (WCAX) Mt. Abraham Union High School officials are hoping to make the case to the community for a major renovation.

Artist rendering

The Addison County school which serves about 600 students held an open house Wednesday to show taxpayers why they need a $35 million bond measure to pass next Thursday to pay for shoring up the facility.

"If we want a 7 - 12 school in this five-town community we have to renovate this building," said Mt. Abe Principal Jessica Barewicz.

Barewicz says the damage to the 50-year-old building is hindering student learning. "Students don't feel secure that the building is going to hold up to actually keep school running as it should be," she said.

Aside from holes in the walls and outdated class rooms, Barewicz says renovation is also needed on the things you can't see -- like the cooling and heating systems. "When they come in and they feel that impression of the building, there is little that we can do other than renovate," she said.

This is not the first time this district has talked about a revamp. It was voted down a few years ago. This new proposal is for a $35-million bond from taxpayers. Another million will be set aside in the school budget. Addison North East Superintendent Patrick Reen says that million dollars helps ease the burden on taxpayers. "Even though the bond is more, the financial situation and the increase to taxes is less," he said.

The state no longer helps fund renovation projects like this for schools. It used to help fund 30-percent of the renovation, but that stopped 10 years and has left the state's aging schools to foot the bill. "We have a building that's well cared for and well used for 50 years, but it's showing its age and I don't think it reflects the pride the community has in its school and students," Reen said.

Community members we spoke with had mixed reactions

"There's a very big unbalance in the way the money is spent -- back to the drawing bored I say," said Barbra Ball of Bristol.

"I think the school needs to have the renovations done. Education is very important and it's time to do it," said Charles Cousino of New Haven.

If the vote doesn't pass, the principal says she's not sure what could happen after that. "There are some significant risks that scare me to think about -- having to close the doors if we have some significant issues that really disrupt school -- that's inevitable if we don't do something soon," Barewicz said.

A homeowner with a home valued at $200,000 would pay $175 more each year in property taxes if the bond passes next Thursday. The towns affected are Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton, New Haven, and Starksboro.