Slate Valley school district proposes $60 million building project

Renovations are planned at the Slate Valley union district high school.

Another school board will be asking voters to approve a big construction project this spring.

The school board in the Slate Valley Unified School District, which straddles Addison and Rutland counties, has endorsed a multi-school project that would renovate the high school, build a union middle school, and add on to one of the district’s local elementary schools.

The plan is currently priced at $64.5 million, although school officials say they expect a revised estimate to come in just under $60 million.

Many of the state’s high schools were built during the late 50s and 60s and are showing their age. Voters in Burlington and Winooski have approved large building projects of late, and Slate Valley won’t be only district with a big bond on the ballot this March. 

South Burlington’s school board is proposing to build a new combined middle and high school building for an eye-popping $209 million. And the school board in the Mad River Valley’s Harwood Unified Union District is scheduled to pick between a roster of options for reconfiguring its schools next week, which could include a bond for upwards of $40 million. In St. Johnsbury, a $3 million bond was narrowly greenlit by voters on Tuesday.

The bond in Slate Valley would pay to renovate Fair Haven Union High, which administrators say faces a slew of deferred maintenance needs. Of particular concern is the school’s boiler, which officials say is original to the building. 

“Prior school boards, they really tried to preserve personnel, and unfortunately didn’t have the funds to put into the building,” said Slate Valley Superintendent Brooke Olsen-Farrell. “So now we’re just at a critical point, where we’re worried about having heat to get through the winter.”

Particularly in newly-merged districts, school officials are increasingly proposing to create or strengthen union middle schools instead of continuing to educate the middle grades in local town elementaries. In the Slate Valley district, about half the bond would go toward building a union middle school attached to Fair Haven Union High for all of the five-town district’s 7th and 8th-graders. Officials say the change would create the critical mass necessary to offer robust programming for the middle grades.

The move would effectively shutter one of the districts’ schools – the Castleton Village School, which currently serves grades 6-8, since 6th graders would be moved to the Castleton Elementary School. 

But officials say they would want to re-purpose the space, and are at work on a potential partnership with Castleton University’s Early Childhood Lab. The university, which is part of the state college system, has indicated it would like to eventually site a child care facility at the Village School as it expands its programming, although talks between the district and college are still preliminary.

Slate Valley’s bond, if approved, would also pay for an addition at the Orwell Village School, where students currently attend gym class and eat off-site in the town’s former meetinghouse.

Taken together, Slate Valley school board chair Julie Finnegan says the project would better equip the district to attract families with children into the area.

“We can be an educational powerhouse if we have the facility to house our students on a campus like this,” she said.

Administrators have scheduled a tour of the high school for Nov. 20 at 6:30 p.m. to give the public a chance to ask questions and see the facility’s conditions for themselves.

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Lola Duffort

About Lola

Lola Duffort is a political reporter for VTDigger, covering Vermont state government, the congressional delegation and elections. She previously covered education for Digger, the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire and the Rutland Herald. She has also freelanced for the Miami Herald in Florida, where she grew up. She is a graduate of McGill University in Canada.

Email: [email protected]

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