The Lamoille North Supervisory Union school board unanimously approved the initial draft of a multi-million-dollar project to build a new central office with attached pre-kindergarten classrooms, an athletic area and a handful of other new construction and repair projects at the district’s Hyde Park campus.
A bond vote will be held in September, which is estimated to cost between $13.9 million and $16.1 million; a firmer number will be provided in August when the vote is warned.
Now, the project has become much more than just a new central office, but what administrators characterized as a “Lamoille County community facility” and a project that will address some of the region’s most urgent needs instead.
The new central office campus would be built on land on Cricket Hill and would accommodate the district’s administrative and information technology staff, which is currently spread out across three locations.
A portion of the office building will be set aside for separately accessible pre-kindergarten classrooms, which could accommodate up to 40 students, the district’s business manager Deborah Clark said.
The pre-kindergarten program would be staffed by professionals educated at the nearby Green Mountain Technology and Career Center, providing a ready-made solution to the labor problem that has contributed to Vermont’s lack of child care.
The project would also create the district’s first track and field campus, with a six-lane rubberized track ringing a 100-yard-long field that could host regulation soccer and football games.
With an area adequately set up for other competitions like discus throw and a relocated mountain bike pump track, the facility would provide the district’s dedicated runners a place to call their own and allow the school to host track and field meets.
“We always knew we could find a solution for (the administration). That wasn’t the primary driver,” superintendent Catherine Gallagher said. “The track has always been in the works, but then we were looking at what the need was in our community: child care. I mean, we have teachers who can’t find child care here, so they’re teaching somewhere else. We have people who are saying child care is full. What are we doing about it? This is an opportunity to do something about it.”
The central office, pre-kindergarten, and track and field campus is the project’s most expensive segment and will cost an estimated $7.5 million.
As part of the project, the district is also proposing construction of a $1.1 million performing arts center that would host Lamoille Union High School’s popular dance program and provide a black box theater space for projects outside of the often-booked auditorium.
Other larger ticket items include a $1.1 million roof replacement for the technology and career center and $1 million for parking lot resurfacing at the district’s main campus.
The Lamoille North district’s largest outstanding long-term liability is the 30-year, $9.8 million bond for the Hyde Park Elementary School renovations. Voters approved the bond in 2016. The district's total debt load is currently at $14.9 million, but debt associated with Johnson Elementary School and the career center are coming off the books within the next six years.
Clark also said the district planned to contribute $800,000 accumulated from a money market fund supplied by a unique interest-free loan the district received long ago toward the project’s upfront costs.
“When we look at where our families are most involved and present, it’s at performing arts events, it’s at athletic events, and then you add that to the need for child care. This is in my mind, a win-win for our students,” Gallagher said.
Both Gallagher and Clark said the plans are fluid and could change prior to the bond vote. The upcoming summer will see a public relations blitz as the district attempts to convince residents that an estimated tax increase of $50 per $100,000 in property value is a small price to pay for what’s being pitched as a project that will provide community-wide benefits.
This article was updated on 5/25/2023 to reflect the full amount of debt carried by the Lamoille North Supervisory Union, that the interest from a money market fund belonged wholly to the entire district and to clarify that the district's current central office has a carbon dioxide problem, not a carbon monoxide problem.
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