WESTMINSTER -- Political harmony is still possible in this country. And it manifested itself on the grounds of Compass School on Tuesday morning.
Republicans and Democrats alike were present at the school to celebrate the construction work made possible by a $1,105,000 rural development loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Vermont Lt. Gov. Phil Scott and staff members of Vermont's congressional delegation showed up to tout the school and the unique educational opportunities this money will help bestow upon its students. The loan funds will be used to build an arts and science expansion onto the school.
"At a time when we are struggling as a state to figure out how to provide and deliver education in a manner that's affordable, yet creates a learning environment that's conducive to success in your future," Scott said, "the Compass School seems to have accomplished both of those objectives."
The construction work also will make the school much more energy efficient.
"Thanks to USDA Rural Development funding, the Compass School will save on energy costs, provide additional classroom space and assure learning opportunities for students and families into the future," U.S. Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch said in a joint statement. "We are pleased to support grants that strengthen communities and strengthen educational opportunities in our rural towns."
For Rick Gordon, the head of Compass School, the bipartisanship of the day did not go unnoticed and he made sure to stress the importance of it to his students.
"I said to the kids, 'There's a teachable moment here. Back in the day, Republicans and Democrats used to talk in America to figure out ways to solve problems and still, in Vermont,'" Gordon said, Wednesday, "we're lucky to have some level of bipartisanship and have a lieutenant governor who's a Republican serving with a Democrat [Gov. Peter Shumlin]."
The celebration also included a few words from 18-year-old senior Ari Fox, who will attend Northeastern University on a nearly full scholarship in the fall.
Gordon said the school applied for the loan -- with the help of Brattleboro-based USDA Community Programs Specialist Andrea C. Ansevin-Allen -- in the summer of 2013 and learned a few months later it would be the recipient. Ground was broken on the project last month and Gordon said Wesfield Construction, out of West Chesterfield, N.H., has been tasked with the work. Wesfield will build a 1,600-square-foot addition and make several energy efficiency upgrades to the existing and new heating and cooling systems. Director of Admissions Rick Cowan said the work is expected to be completed by the time the 2014-15 school year starts in the fall. The loan comes with a 30-year term and interest of slightly more than 3 percent.
Gordon explained that roughly $700,000 of the $1.1 million loan will be used for the construction, while the remainder goes to refinance existing debt. He told the Reformer the addition will feature a new science lab, a new arts lab, some storage space, a quiet study area and administrative offices. It will also give the school a new distinguished entryway and a new parking lot. The space currently used for parking will become a sports area, Gordon said, and vehicles will be able to park near the new addition.
Gordon and Cowan said the first simplistic design of the construction was done by Compass School pupils before some architecture students affiliated with Keene State College's Communicorps program took it from there.
"Originally, it was just for an art building ... and they said, both after observing here and talking to kids, 'The quality of learning here is so great and the kids are so proud of this school, you need to have a building that represents the pride and what goes on here,'" Gordon said. "So, they expanded the scope of the project."
Gordon said the KSC students thought it was important to make sure the quality of the building's exterior matches that of the inside.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.