Vt. schools face challenges funding construction - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. schools face challenges funding construction

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Rumney Memorial School, with its idyllic setting in the hills of Middlesex, appears neat and tidy at first glance.

"It's been painted, but it's nonetheless-- it's worn and it's got some rot," Principal Adam Rosen said.

But on closer inspection there's a backlog of work on the 1961-era building.

"The original part of the building from 1961, the big wooden beams that support the roof have actually been downgraded and we've seen some deflection under the snow load and they need to be reinforced," Rosen said.

From inadequate support beams to a tiny kitchen that was never designed to cook food. Of the 400 plus schools across Vermont, it's a prime example of the aging infrastructure of some schools.

"A lot of the building stock is quite old, built post World War II, you know '50s, '60s, and even the buildings built in the '90s. You know over 20 years or so, you need to do work on your school, just like you do work on your house," said David Epstein of TruexCullins Architects.

But since 2007, when the Legislature suspended school construction aid, individual communities have had to shoulder the financial burden. The $4.5 million Middlesex bond measure that failed Tuesday would have meant a property tax increase for some upward of $300. Despite what is normally strong support for the school, voters said no by a 230-168 margin.

"With the economy the ways it's been the last few years, people are just concerned about the uncertainty of things economically," said Dexter Lefavour, who opposed the bond.

East Montpelier residents went through the same exercise last spring, rejecting a $10 million school construction bond before they approved a scaled-down version.

State education officials say despite the absence of state aid, a handful of renovation projects have gone forward and that communities are doing their best to maintain their schools. But it hasn't been without its challenges.

"With 17-million-square-feet in 400 buildings, as you might imagine, there are a lot of needs in schools," said Jeff Francis of the Vermont Superintendents Association. "Resources are short all-around, so when some schools and school districts make decisions to fund projects and others can't, it does raise the question of equity."

There are no statewide estimates for deferred maintenance. But some put the cost of weatherization alone at upward of $50 million.

"Creating good schools, high performance schools, both from an energy standpoint and from an educational standpoint is a great investment for Vermont and I hope that together we can come up with a solution," Epstein said.

Middlesex School Board members say that Tuesday's "no" vote doesn't change the urgency of the work that needs to be done.

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