’A huge sigh of relief’
BRATTLEBORO -- After more than a decade of wrangling over what to do about the schools in Wilmington and Whitingham, voters in both towns approved a bond of $13,341,734 by a vote of 396 to 340.
The bond includes $3,977,884 to renovate the Deerfield Valley Elementary school in Wilmington and $9,473,850 to expand and update the Twin Valley Middle and High School in Whitingham.
In Wilmington, the bond passed 232 to 217 and in Whitingham it passed 164 to 123.
"It was a huge sigh of relief," said Phil Taylor, chairman of the Wilmington School Board. "It was closer than I would have liked it to have been, but we had to make a lot of tough choices."
Seth Boyd, chairman of the Twin Valley School Board, agreed it was a close vote, "but the voter turnout was tremendous, which to us was a very good barometer," he said.
The question about what to do with the schools had been hotly contested over the years and proposals had been repeatedly knocked down by town voters.
But Taylor said he’s seen a shift in the way people think about the schools.
"It was clearly not a complete shift, but more people understood we needed to consolidate if we wanted to maintain a high school," said Taylor.
Boyd said final building plans will be drawn up over the next two months, followed by a one-month bid process. He said the board hopes to have construction begin near the end of July and completed by the 2013 school year.
Taylor said the schedule for 2013 might be arranged to allow interior work to be done to the buildings while students are out on summer vacation so there is minimal disruption to the school session.
"The big victory here is that we can start to get our financial struggles behind us and get focused on the real purpose of education," said Taylor. "It’s not about buildings. It’s about how we teach our children."
Boyd said the towns have been dealing with facilities issues ever since the two towns created the Twin Valley system.
"This is a huge relief for us," he said.
Taylor said that when the new buildings are done, the door to the 21st century will be wide open for the students.
Last July, both towns were presented with three options for the schools’ future. The majority of voters in each town selected Option A -- putting the elementary students in Wilmington and the middle and high school students in Whitingham.
Bob Audette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.
Melanie Winters contributed to this story.