Private donations drying up for CVU auditorium12/11/08

School Board discussing alternative funding options

Dec. 11, 2008

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

With private donations slow to appear and a rough economy making a bond vote a tough sell, the fate of Champlain Valley Union High School’s auditorium renovation is up in the air. But members of the CVU School Board agree it needs a drastic update sooner rather than later. Proponents of the auditorium say it’s a vital piece of the CVU community.

“It’s really a classroom in our school,” said Sarah Tischler, co-chairwoman of the auditorium fundraising committee. “It moves kids who might have a home in this school.”

The auditorium is considered the last piece of CVU that needs drastic upgrades. When the school was renovated in 2003, the auditorium was left off due to costs. Save for new seating in 2005, it’s been 44 years since the space has had any major improvements.

The total projected cost of the renovations is around $2.3 million. The School Board has $800,000 in a capital fund that could be moved to a construction fund pending voter approval in March. School Board Chairwoman Jeanne Jensen guessed the school could find another $200,000 for the renovation, but it’s still a long way from the projected cost.

“For me, it’s that nagging checklist item, in that everyone did an amazing job to make (school renovations) happen, but this didn’t happen,” said Principal Sean McMannon. “It’s the one room you go in and it’s not up to where we need to be.”

Private funding

Tischler said private donations have been slow to come in recently.

“Fundraising has definitely slowed down,” Tischler said. “I admit, I’m having a hard time asking right now.”

Tischler said in the last few weeks, she was able to raise $12,000, bringing the private donation and grant total to $280,000. The goal was to reach $1 million in donations. Tischler said she doesn’t see any big donations coming down the pipe in the future, either.

She said while people are supportive of the renovation, many believe it’s a municipal or infrastructure project, not something that should be privately driven.

“I’m hearing that more now than in the beginning,” Tischler said.

Katie Palmer, a CVU alum and advocate for the auditorium renovation, said she thinks this December is a bad time to ask people for money, but believes there are enough former students who might be willing to donate next year.

“I have no doubt that we’ll get there,” Palmer said.

Bond vote?

Jensen suggested three possibilities: wait until next year to see if the economy improves, ask the community to make up the difference with a bond, or take what money is available and work with that.

The board disagreed on whether it should go for a bond. Making up the difference would mean asking for a bond of $500,000. Jensen said the cost to an individual taxpayer would be small, but it’s the idea of more money that could cause the bond to not pass.

“People are having a hard time right now and we need to be sensitive to that,” board member Lia Cravedi said.

Board member Joan Lenes agreed.

“I think it would look insensitive on our part,” Lenes said. “It’s the perception of the times.”

Jeff Parker said he would “entertain” the idea of a bond. He cited rising costs in construction as a reason to do the renovations sooner than later.

“The impact can be very little to each taxpayer and this program deserves it,” Parker said. “I think at some point we need to take some action.”

At next week’s budget meeting, the School Board will hear from Jules Chatot of Banwell Architects, a New Hampshire-based institutional design firm. Chatot designed the CVU renovations and 2003 and has worked with Williston and Charlotte schools in the past.

“I have great confidence in Jules,” McMannon said. “He knows us well and he knows this building well.”

The CVU School Board budget meeting will take place on Monday, Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. in rooms 140-142.