TOWNSHEND -- When Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School was built in 1970, the building didn't include a cafeteria.

Times have changed. And, while the regional school now hosts a busy food-services area that was renovated in 2009, officials say the cafeteria is not adequate to meet growing demand and new federal requirements.

So administrators are pitching a three-year, incremental investment in food services. The project's first phase is the biggest portion of a suggested $96,500 capital expenditure that played a role in bumping up Leland & Gray's proposed budget for fiscal year 2015.

"The needs of an aging school building and increasing student usage comprise the bulk of budget increases this year," Principal Dorinne Dorfman wrote in her detailed rationale supporting the school board's budget.

Leland & Gray's proposed fiscal 2015 spending plan stands at nearly $7 million, with expenditures up 2.8 percent from the current year's budget.

The Leland & Gray annual meeting, which also serves as a public-information hearing on the budget, is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Feb. 4 at the school gymnasium in Townshend.

The next day, voters in the district's five member towns -- Brookline, Jamaica, Newfane, Townshend and Windham -- will vote on the budget via Australian Ballot at their respective polling places.

Last year, voters approved the fiscal year 2014 Leland & Gray budget by a 147-67 margin. That spending plan represented a 3.9 percent increase from the previous year.

Expenses once again are up in the fiscal 2015 plan, but by a smaller margin.

"I think it's well-known that the Leland & Gray board and administration have been trying to keep things under control in terms of spending," said Emily Long, the board's chairwoman.

The goal of the budget, Dorfman writes, is to "engage and support every student in a comprehensive college- and career-preparatory, 7-12 education."

The spending plan also promotes "progress in achieving our action plan to improve students' conceptual and problem-solving skills in mathematics and science," she said.

That highlights an academic shift planned by Leland & Gray administrators, who are increasing requirements for middle school students in the so-called STEM fields -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

"We have felt that, given the emphasis on STEM for career and college preparation, it would behoove us to have STEM become our tech-ed requirement," Dorfman said.

The change requires no extra investment, she added.

Overall, the school's classroom budget -- the proposed direct spending on instruction -- is down by 3 percent, or $89,220, from this year.

But Dorfman also pointed out several requests for increased spending, including:

-- Officials want to set aside $7,000 each year for the next three years to purchase a new driver-education car.

-- There are plans to buy a new kiln for the Leland & Gray art department, resulting in a budget-allocation increase of 8.3 percent.

"The kiln now in use has exceeded its expected life and frequently is in need of repair, which is very difficult given the age of the kiln," Dorfman said.

-- Salary increases "for attaining higher levels of education will be budgeted for family consumer science, counseling and nurse services," Dorfman wrote.

Steven John, Windham Central Supervisory Union superintendent, also noted that there is an overall 3 percent salary increase called for in teachers' collective-bargaining agreement.

Other budget changes and increases noted by Dorfman include:

-- There is a 10.7 percent increase in special education costs due to nine additional students who need such services.

-- The computer-technology budget is due to rise by 4.4 percent to accommodate new equipment including a three-dimensional printer.

"A student designs a three-dimensional object -- say, something that would be part of a machine -- and the 3-D printer, through an epoxy, actually creates it," Dorfman explained.

-- The school board agreed, at Dorfman's recommendation, to drop an accreditation agreement with the New England Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges.

That arrangement "would have increased the cost of evaluation to $20,000 in fees, plus $4,000 in added professional development time for faculty and administrative staff," Dorfman said.

Instead, Leland & Gray's fiscal year 2015 budget allocates $5,000 for a collaboration with two other Vermont high schools. That deal "will bring faculty, principals, students and community members together to review school progress and make recommendations for improvement," Dorfman said.

Long said the school board "had some concerns, and it took us several months to review" the proposed change.

"In the end, the board was fully supportive of this model," she said.

Board members also are hoping voters will support an additional $23,500 in capital spending in fiscal year 2015.

The requested $96,500 in capital expenses breaks down this way: There is $4,000 for carpet replacement; $5,000 for electrical infrastructure; $25,000 for insulation replacement; $30,000 for a heating/ventilation/air-conditioning control system; and $32,500 for the first phase of the food-service upgrade.

Dorfman offered several reasons why food services require such a large investment:

-- "The percentage of students eligible for free meals since 2010 has grown from 38 percent to 48 percent, which is an increase (of) nearly one-third," she wrote, adding that, "this year, improved food quality has attracted a higher number of students than ever before."

-- Expansion of after-school programs has increased the need for end-of-day snacks. "Since 2012, a federal grant has funded Abbey Food Services to provide after-school snacks four times a week for all students," Dorfman said.

-- Also, since June 2012, the school has provided breakfast and lunch to students participating in Windham Central Supervisory Union summer programs.

-- And, for two years, Leland & Gray has been a "designated food-distribution site for all community members under 18" -- meaning the school offers free breakfast and lunches during summer school activities.

But the school's cramped, outdated facilities mean staff members "struggle with food preparation and distribution in our current facilities," Dorfman wrote. "The 2012 federal guidelines to qualify for the free meals program include significantly more whole foods and meals prepared from scratch. The small workspace (and) limited professional kitchen equipment, storage and refrigeration prevent food services from improving safety, food quality, capacity and cost-efficiency."

Leland & Gray officials say the proposed fiscal 2015 capital spending would include $15,000 for a walk-in cooler or freezer; $8,000 for a pizza oven with a six-minute bake time; $6,000 for an oven, $2,500 for electrical work and $1,000 for a counter griddle.

The proposed spending in the Leland & Gray fiscal 2015 budget would affect tax rates differently in each member town depending on enrollment and several state-controlled variables.

And the state's educational-tax numbers have not been issued, so any tax numbers are projections. But at this point, without factoring in taxes associated with elementary school budgets, the estimated tax impact of the Leland & Gray budget is as follows:

-- Brookline: 0.7187 this year to 0.7136 in fiscal 2015 (essentially unchanged).

-- Jamaica: 0.8172 to 0.8669 (up 5 cents).

-- Newfane: 0.8470 to 0.9461 (up almost 10 cents).

-- Townshend: 0.7945 to 0.9418 (up almost 15 cents).

-- Windham: 0.8093 to 0.9293 (up 12 cents).

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.