WHITINGHAM- One Wilmington school board member is gone, replaced by a familiar face.
At Tuesday evening’s “triboard” meeting, longtime Wilmington School Board member Doug Swanson submitted his resignation. Although he won’t serve on the board any longer, Swanson has agreed to remain on the building committee.
Appearing with Swanson as a volunteer replacement was someone who was a familiar face at board meetings for many years, former Deerfield Valley Elementary School Principal Kathy Larsen. Board members accepted Swanson’s resignation, and appointed Larsen to serve in his place. Since her retirement Larsen has remained involved in DVES as a mentor.
Construction on the new Twin Valley Elementary School building is on track and back on budget, school board members said. Building committee chair Phil Taylor told board members that change orders had been “creeping in” on the contingency fund built into the budget, but the committee was able to bring costs back in line with the budget. “After freaking out about it, we’re doing pretty well now,” he said. “We found that if you’re willing to do the legwork, getting bids and other quotes, you can really keep costs down.”
With costs under control and major construction expenses met, Taylor said he was recommending that the board approve the planned purchase of a wood pellet boiler and pellet silo for the school’s heating system. “We still have the interior renovation, and we want to keep a good buffer until the end,” he said. “But at this time, if we don’t use contingency (in the board’s construction budget), we would be right back with the numbers, so we’re asking for permission to purchase that pellet boiler.”
The reason for making the purchase now, Taylor explained, is to ensure that the boiler will be available at the time it needs to be installed. “There are quite a few orders for that particular model of boiler, so if we don’t make a move, it may mean getting it installed next winter. We’d like to have it done earlier.”
“The thinking had been that we would get the wood pellet boiler or the sprinkler system,” noted Twin Valley School Board Chair Seth Boyd. “Now we have both on track.”
“Everything in the bond vote is still in there,” Taylor added. “We haven’t taken any cuts, and we haven’t eliminated anything.” Board members gave the go-ahead for the purchase.
Construction plans for the Twin Valley Middle/High School are also on track, Taylor said, although there has been at least one substantial change since the bond for that facility was passed. “The gym has been reduced in size by about 10%,” Taylor said, “but it was a large gym. And we don’t know where we stand with the field right now, but we’ll keep fighting to get what we want at a price we can afford.”
Copies of the plans have been printed and are ready to be reviewed before the project goes out to bid, Taylor told board members.
Taylor also suggested that the Wilmington board consider selling the portable classroom that had been behind DVES. The building is currently in storage in the former Deerfield Valley Supply parking lot. “I suggest you authorize us to pursue the sale of the building, and I’ll come back with an actual sale price.”
Board member Adam Grinold asked if the board should seek bids for the building to get the best price.
“If you put it out to bid, the bids will all come back within a few hundred dollars of each other,” said Boyd. “And right now we’re paying for the storage.”
But Boyd noted that the disposition of the proceeds from the sale is an undecided matter. The building was originally placed at DVES to make room for a supervisory union special education program. “The supervisory union purchased it, but Wilmington owns it because the SU can’t own property,” Boyd said.
“We need to have that information to make decisions,” said Grinold.
Supervisory union business manager Karen Atwood said she would look into the matter.
The board also looked at a draft of next year’s school calendar, a key document in next year’s transition to a consolidated Twin Valley K-12 system. DVES Principal Rebecca Fillion noted that there were only 83 days left until DVES becomes Twin Valley Elementary School on July 1.
Fillion said that, to accommodate the construction schedule, students wouldn’t start the new school year until September 16. “So we have to make up 12 days in the calendar,” she said.
Teacher in-service days will be scheduled before and after the student school year. Otherwise, Fillion said, more days would be added to the number to be made up. To make up the 12 days of classes, school staff voted to work two days during February break and to work holidays. “We didn’t touch April vacation,” Fillion said. “That was a recommendation from the staff. They felt it might be nice for families to have an untouched break if they want to go away on vacation.”
Fillion pointed out that all of the make-up days would be half days. “They count as full days, and a lot of them are holidays. Traditionally, the elementary school participates in the parade and celebrations at Memorial Hall. Those events might count as a half-day.”
Taylor said there was a possibility that the school could be ready for occupation earlier than September 16. “Is there flexibility in the calendar for that?” he asked.
“I would be very nervous about that. Staff and families are saying they need to know already. They’re booking trips for Labor Day. I don’t think we can start early.”
When pressed by other board members, Fillion objected to leaving the school start date open. “Contractually, how can I tell them they can’t have their days off? How is the union going to agree to 185 days (teachers’ contracted number of days), but keep this week free?”
Board member Aimee Reed said some parents would be upset by the schedule, particularly since it will vary substantially from the middle and high school schedules. “My feeling is, parents are going to be upset no matter what schedule we have,” said Fillion. “If we do a unified calendar, some will be upset. If we do it this way, some are going to be upset.”
Wilmington board member Tim Cunningham asked what would happen if the construction extends beyond the school start date. “It’s Murphy’s Law,” he said.
“Then we call Bellows Falls and ask them what they did,” said Whitingham Elementary/Twin Valley Middle School Principal Keith Lyman.
“We take all of February and April vacation and go to school in June,” said Boyd. “We lose those cushions.”
“That’s why I think we need to keep pushing that date back (earlier),” said Taylor. “It’s going to be tight.”