Danville residents consider cost to upgrade school

Danville school leaders say the building is deteriorating, but residents are apprehensive about the footing the bill to get fix the problem.
Published: Dec. 9, 2022 at 6:27 AM EST
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DANVILLE, Vt. (WCAX) - Danville school leaders say their building is deteriorating, but some residents are apprehensive about footing the bill to fix the problems.

“We’re one failed system away from what I would consider a crisis in that building,” said Caledonia Central Supervisory Union Superintendent Mark Tucker.

The Danville School was built in 1937 and is home to 355 students in pre-K-12. Tucker says the building has small classrooms, a struggling air ventilation system, outdated electrical and plumbing systems, an incomplete sprinkler system, and other out-of-code infrastructure.

But with three options ranging from $32 million to $75 million to renovate or redo the school completely, Tucker says the district is in a predicament when it comes to paying for it.

“There’s no federal or state funding to help support these projects. Right now, I can’t tell our community that they’re... that any of that is going to materialize. So, we’re looking at the community having to foot the bill and residents are understandably upset about it, about the cost and the impact on their property taxes,” he said.

How much a resident will pay depends on their house site value and/or their income. One example shows some residents will pay about $900 a year.

The idea of renovations is a talking point in town. “I’m just not sure how much they’re needed now. I’d like to know about enrollment, if it’s going up and down. There’s a lot of factors to consider,” said Mark Remick, a local resident.

“No matter what the taxes are, if it’s going to improve it for the kids and the teachers as well, they should do it,” said David Sibinch, of Danville.

Danville School Board Chair Clayton Cargill says there are roughly 1,100 taxpayers in the community. “I have no doubt that that the needs are glaring and that the needs are imminent. The money is staggering and the money is a major major stumbling block,” he said.

The Building Advisory Committee is being reinstated to reevaluate the building options, discuss bringing the building up to code, and discuss the role school choice plays in the community. “We’re gonna reconvene with the committee and the committee on the building and see if we can move forward with some different solutions,” said Cargill. He adds that the building committee isn’t operating on a specific timeline.

Vermont Secretary of Education Dan French says a lack of state and federal funding creates a dilemma for schools and underscores equity issues with facilities. He says some places in the state wouldn’t hesitate to pass a bond, while others would struggle to do that.

The state in April released an inventory of all the school facilities. The next step in Act 72 comes this winter when an outside professional will be doing assessments in schools to have a report about their conditions.

French says there isn’t a regular, consistent stream of federal funding for facilities upgrades, but the state wants to have data ready if there becomes money available. “We would be able to essentially have a shovel-ready argument to apply for those funds. But the Legislature and Act 72 also directed the agency to start exploring funding options. So, you know, while this other work is going on, we’re also engaged in the policy review of identifying potential funding sources, updating our construction standards, which exist in regulation,” said French. “So, all these things are kind of happening simultaneously.”

French says the next facilities report will be done in fall 2023. Meanwhile, PCB testing is going on in schools and has been since the summer.

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