Craftsbury Academy — a small school with a big heart

What do you remember from high school?

Craftsbury Academy graduation ceremonies June 2009. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Bethany M. Dunbar, December 4, 2009

When the voters of Craftsbury finally said yes to a major school renovation earlier this year, I admit it:  I was thrilled.

Journalists are supposed to be objective and I’ve done my best.  But Craftsbury Academy is my high school.  In 1977 I graduated along with 12 others and went out into the world — more ready for adult life and college than one might expect.

I played basketball in the rickety gymnasium and learned Latin, algebra, and how to write in front of those tall, elegant energy-hog windows.  I read Shakespeare, sang in the chorus, worked on the school newspaper and yearbook, and learned gun safety and how to shoot a .22 rifle.  In those days it was a requirement for Vermont kids in ninth grade or about that age and it still should be.  I learned how to ski and speak French.  We had a Problems of American Democracy class with Bruce “Coach” Aschenbach that was just three students.  Such a tiny class allowed us to do special projects including one investigating the pros and cons of zoning for Craftsbury.  I remember when studying the Cuban Missile Crisis I wanted to write a letter to Fidel Castro to get his side of the story.  The principal in those days, Ted Howard, said all right, but not on school letterhead.  It seemed a reasonable compromise.

Mr. Castro did not write back to me.  I’ve probably been on a CIA watch list ever since.

My English teacher, Joan Simmons, entered something I wrote into a national writing contest and it won an honorable mention.  The Hardwick Gazette came and took my picture and put a little something in the paper.  By the way, the editors said, do you want to write some articles about Craftsbury for the paper?  Sure.  A career was launched.

Years later I covered a thematic experience at the school that took the entire student body on a whale watch.  That was after weeks of studying literature, music, math, science and art related to whales.  Those students will remember what they learned in those classes for life.

What do you remember from high school?

The small school experience is nothing to give up without a fight.

Craftsbury voters rejected three bond votes since 2005 either because they were too expensive or because voters didn’t agree with various parts of them.

I didn’t write editorials in favor of the last few plans.  I hoped each one would pass — for selfish reasons — to keep the school I love going.  But I’m not paying taxes in that town and could certainly understand why someone might vote against a proposal that would cost $10-million to build a new school for 13 graduating seniors.

The drastic renovation that was approved in November of this year is a perfect solution, at least for now.  It won’t fix the rickety gym, but the gym will hold up one or two more winters, with luck.  The kids won’t be able to play basketball when there’s a big snow storm.  But they will still have their school and all the opportunities a small community high school can offer.

Posted below is the story I wrote for the Chronicle outlining the plan, which voters approved 258 to 111 on November 10.  I would have editorialized in favor of this plan if I had written the story a week earlier.  I’m reluctant to write an editorial in the same week as a news story.  Waiting a week allows others to speak up at the same time and seems more fair.

Craftsbury Academy renovation vote, the Chronicle, November 4, 2009

by Bethany M. Dunbar

CRAFTSBURY COMMON — Voters in Craftsbury will go to the polls next week to decide if they want to spend $3-million in order to save on their property taxes.

Julie Marckres painted a financial picture for those at an information meeting on Tuesday that sounded a lot like a person who is spending $300 a month on repairs for an old car trying to decide if they want to buy a new used one instead and make a $200 car payment.

Ms. Marckres is the chairman of the school board for the Craftsbury schools.  An accountant by trade, Ms. Marckres had created a chart showing the savings created by fixing up the old Academy building.

One of the biggest savings is that in the current budget, property taxpayers spent $200,000 on school repairs.  That goes into the state formula as per-pupil cost, which means a per-pupil cost in Craftsbury (after adjustments made by the state) of $18,172.

That rate of spending leads to a homestead tax rate of $2.08.

A 15-year $3-million zero interest rate bond for renovations on the Academy would be considered construction costs and not per pupil costs, which would mean a homestead tax rate of $1.83 instead.

Extreme savings would also be realized on energy costs due to the renovation.  These savings were explained by architect Robert Bast and outlined in a recent school newsletter as well.

Currently, the old buildings have an oil furnace and a steam boiler.  The Academy building, built in 1879, has been rated by Efficiency Vermont at about 25 percent efficiency.  By putting in a wood pellet boiler and insulation, and more efficient lighting, the savings will be huge.  The Craftsbury schools currently use more than 22,000 gallons of oil a year for heat.

The changes would save about $20,000 a year in annual energy costs.

A wood pellet silo would be added at the back of the building and would not be higher than the roof line.  Mr. Bast said he went to an energy fair last week and heard that the current cost of wood pellets is about the same as paying $1.67 for a gallon of heating oil.  There are now 15 pellet-making plants in the northeast and seven more are coming into production in the near future.

The renovations are expected to improve energy efficiency by 60 percent, up to about 80 percent.

The $3-million renovation would include insulation and new clapboards, new windows designed to look like the historic windows, completely new wiring, a sprinkler system, an elevator and enclosed stairways for safety.

Renovations would include new office and special services space, and new bathrooms.  The buildings would be accessible for everyone.

The Academy building is owned by the Craftsbury Academy Trustees.  Linda Ramsdell is on that board and told the people at Tuesday’s meeting that the board of trustees has applied for, and received, $137,000 in tax credits and has agreed to match that amount to help with this project.  The board has also been given a grant of $50,000 from the Freeman Foundation to help with replacing the windows with more energy-efficient windows that will look just like the historic windows in the building now.

What the renovations won’t do is anything to help the old gymnasium, the industrial arts building, or the elementary school.

The disadvantage of not moving elementary students up to the common is that the funds are not eligible for state aid.  But the advantage of not doing everything at once is that it allows a long-term planning process that has started in town to continue.

A group called the Craftsbury Schools Community Collaboration is looking at big picture questions such as whether or not the town wants to continue to educate its students in town, or if it wants to send high school students to another school.

Steve Moffatt urged everyone who cares to get involved.

“Now is your chance to step up to the plate,” he said.  The next meeting of the group is November 19 at 6:30 at the town hall.  He said about 30 people have been regularly involved, and they are dedicated.

Voting to renovate the Academy would not clash with any future decision the town might make, according to Mr. Moffatt.  Ms. Marckres said if the town decides to just have an elementary school in the future, the classrooms in the renovated Academy building, the Annex and Minden Hall will be fine for that purpose.

Funding for the $3-million is through a Qualified School Construction Bond which is money provided to Vermont through the federal economic stimulus package.  Vermont will have $24-million for qualified school projects.

“This is not a free ride,” said John Maniatti.  “This is going to cost all of use a lot of money for the next 20 years.”

Ms. Marckres said it’s true, all the U.S. income taxpayers will be paying for these projects, but if Craftsbury doesn’t take advantage of the zero percent funding, some other town in Vermont will, and the income taxpayers will still have to pay for it.

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One response to “Craftsbury Academy — a small school with a big heart

  1. I share your enthusiasim about keeping Craftsbury Academy alive. As a mother of four who all attended CA, plus my husband, I know the value of the small school experience. When we moved to Craftsbury in 1988, my oldest son was a sophomore and had attended a large union school before. While at that school, he was telling me that he wanted to drop out. Thank goodness for Craftsbury. he loved that school, so much that he and his classmates would even show up on Sunday to play basketball and soccer. They went on to win the schools state championships in both sports their senior year. When my son was feeling a little nervous about going on his class trip to Europe, Ms Simmons called our house and talked him into it and when we arrived at the school his whole class took on the task of making him forget about his fears. This small school raised a whole lot of money for that trip and his being in Rome on Easter was second to none. We are so lucky to have had the Craftsybury experience available for all of our children. It is our continued hope that it will continue to be there for our grandchildren. It’s truly a unique experience.

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