Harwood Union High School

Harwood Union High School

The Harwood Union school board will hold a pair of public forums to discuss school reconfiguration — and possible closures — as it prepares to ask voters for $30 million to make extensive repairs to the high school.

At 7 p.m. on Oct. 1 at Harwood, and Oct. 7 at Crossett Brook Middle School, the board will host meetings at to listen to public comments on proposals that could close one or more elementary schools in the Mad River Valley.

In April, the board began reviewing 27 proposals to reconfigure where students from kindergarten through grade 12 go to school. The proposals ranged from changing nothing to closing one or more elementary schools; another was to close all Harwood schools and pay tuition for students to attend schools in other districts.

In June, the board asked school administrators to look at three proposals that drew the most interest among board members:

• Keep pre-K-4 classes at Warren and Waitsfield, while using Moretown Elementary for early childhood education and closing the doors of Fayston Elementary.

• Keep three of the four valley schools open, but only for grades pre-K through 4, and closing the fourth.

In both scenarios, all students in grades five through eight would attend Crossett Brook.

• Close Fayston, while keeping Moretown, Waitsfield and Warren open for pre-K through 6.

What’s driving the reconfiguration?

In 2017, the Harwood supervisory union voluntarily merged into a single district. Because residents voted to merge voluntarily, they have enjoyed breaks on their property tax rates, beginning with a 10-cent reduction in year one.

However, those tax breaks have decreased by 2 cents every year, and will disappear entirely in July 2023. Even with the incentives, the district is in the top 20 percent in the state for per-pupil spending; without the incentives, the district could face financial penalties for the amount it spends.

At a board meeting Sept. 25, administrators are expected to present the financial figures related to the three scenarios identified in June.

The bond

Even as the board looks to school reconfiguration, it is eying a bond proposal that could add 10 to 15 cents to the tax rate.

In March, the board considered several scenarios, contingent on whether all seventh- and eighth-grade students would to Crossett Brook, including students who live in the Mad River Valley and currently attend Harwood Middle School.

Both bond proposals call for a new, 10,400-square-foot gymnasium at the high school, and both proposals come with lists of maintenance projects that are critical, and maintenance that is not critical.

For example, lighting improvements in the 1965 portion of the high school are considered critical, while similar repairs for the 1998 portion of the school are not. Numerous improvements to the science labs, which date back more than 50 years to when the high school was built, are considered critical. New plumbing for the 53-year-old bathrooms is not.

However, the bond proposal that keeps seventh- and eighth-graders at Harwood — referred to as option 1 — is significantly more expensive, because it involves an additional 13,886 square feet of construction at the high school.

That includes 4,470 square feet for vocational education, 3,825 square feet for ninth-graders, and 1,669 square feet for studies related to science, technology, engineering and math.

The estimated cost for option 1 ranges from $31.5 million to $39.1 million, depending on how much deferred maintenance is included.

The second proposal, which sends Harwood’s seventh- and eighth-graders to Crossett Brook, offers the same improvements, but — aside from the gymnasium — does not require new construction, and in fact would result in more than 6,000 square feet of excess space.

That proposal, known as option 2, would not require any new construction at Crossett Brook, but calls for $1.4 million in improvements to the middle school. The projected price for option 2 ranges from $28.1 million to $35.8 million, making it the less expensive of the two proposals.

According to the board’s long-term schedule — available at bit.ly/harwoodbond — the board plans to decide Nov. 13 on which pre-K-12 plan it will pursue, and plans to ask voters to approve a bond on Town Meeting Day in March.

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