Southern Vermont Mixed On School Renovations

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(Host) A number of Southern Vermont towns had ambitious school renovations on the ballot.

School officials have been saying that even in a time of austerity, it’s economically unwise to put off building improvements.

But as VPR’s Susan Keese reports, the results were mixed.

(Keese) By a margin of three votes, citizens in Rockingham defeated a $10.5 million bond initiative to renovate the Bellows Falls Middle school.

The school dates back to the 1920s.

Middle School Principal Cheri Mc Daniel Thomas says the school has been having trouble meeting codes.

(McDaniel-Thomas) "The electrical is at such a precarious edge that when I turn my tea pot on it kicks the circuit breaker off for three rooms. We’ve got two big boilers that are cracking and each weld is $5,000 to get it back on line again."

(Keese) McDaniel-Thomas says the board was planning to tap low or no interest bonds, called "Qualified School Construction Bonds" made available in Vermont through federal stimulus funds.

The school board in Putney has been taking its renovation in steps. Voters approved a bond for just under half a million dollars for part two of a three-part energy upgrade to the Putney Central School.

School board chairman Benjie Craigin says the 1950s era building still has single pane windows and very little insulation.

(Craigin) "I mean we’re just spending money to heat these old buildings. So it makes sense, financially even. We’re doing it to save money in the long run with this. And I think everyone recognizes that."

(Keese) Craigin says school boards around the state have been doing a good job keeping an eye on the bottom line.

(Craigin) "And I think people have been reluctant to spend money on the building, always thinking I’d rather put off that maintenance issue and keep our arts program. And at some point you have diminishing returns there and you need to step up and spend that money."

(Keese) Putney voters also added a free pre kindergarten for the coming year, and still  came in more than a percentage point below last year’s budget total.

The village of North Bennington and the town of Westmintser also approved renovations to their schools.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.

Visit VPR’s Town Meeting Day page for full coverage

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