ST. ALBANS – On Town Meeting Day, voters across Maple Run’s three member communities will be asked to vote on a bond vote that, if passed, will fund extensive renovations to Bellows Free Academy (BFA) – St. Albans’s 1889 hospital building, safety improvements in its original building and an enclosed walkway and office space bridging BFA’s two disparate buildings.

Maple Run Unified School District is asking voters to approve a bond of $5.72 million to fund the project.

The board is also seeking approval for a $57.3 million budget. The anticipated tax rate is essentially flat, changing less than one cent in Fairfield, St. Albans City and St. Albans Town.

If approved, the bond will raise taxes $15  on a house valued at $200,000 during its first year and spike to $29.80 the second year before gradually decreasing in subsequent years as the bond is paid off.

According to Maple Run’s administration, the proposed  improvements  – especially a centerpiece connector – were fueled largely by longtime safety concerns for students and staff who travel between the buildings daily.

A study conducted by the New England Association of Schools and College concluded that students might walk between BFA’s two separate buildings as many as seven times a day, putting them at risk for both intense weather and possible intruders.

Buses pull away from the 1889 hospital building. (Messenger File Photo)

According to Martha Gagner, the district’s business manager, BFA’s student resource officer (SRO) David French has, in the past, been asked several times to confront someone in the space between both buildings.

Safety concerns have been underscored recently by several high-profile school shootings last year, including the shooting in Parkland, Florida, and a thwarted shooting in Fair Haven.

The project has received the endorsement of both French and St. Albans Police Chief Gary Taylor.

Built into the connector would be an office area and entrance point serving as BFA’s clear front entrance, allowing the high school to more easily monitor traffic coming in and out of the school. The connector also includes a conference space and is designed for future expansion if needed.

BFA’s bus circle would be rerouted toward this new entrance, opening up 22 additional parking spaces at the school’s current bus circle to its northeast.

At the 1889 hospital, the bond would pay for brick repair, door and window replacement, selective replacement of existing roofs and rotted trimming, and reinforcement of the building’s cafeteria floor.  “This has been on our radar for quite a few years,” said Gagner.

In the South Building – which encompasses both the original BFA school building, its 1960s extension and the Northwest Technical Center – the bond would fund the removal of three transformers and the installation of a sprinkler system and new fire doors.

“I think it’s a very practical project that meets the needs the needs of our students and staff,” said BFA principal Chris Mosca, optimistic about the upcoming vote. “These are the times we live in, and I think people understand this isn’t an extravagant wish list.”

Should the bond be approved, the permitting process would likely place these improvements’ projected construction sometime in 2020.

Maple Run Budget

The overall budget for the Maple Run School District, which operates three K-8 schools, a high school and a technical center, is $57.3 million. This is an increase of $2.78 million.

Special education costs are up $1.6 million, nearly all of which will be offset by an increase of $1.3 million in special education revenue. Superintendent Kevin Dirth said the increases are the result of more students needing services. “This is a statewide problem,” Dirth said.

The district will be seeking $40.3 million from the Education Fund to cover its costs, an increase of $1.28 million to taxpayers statewide.

However, the district’s equalized per pupil count is also up, resulting in per pupil spending of $15,741.

Overall, the district has added 60 more students in grades PreK-12, according to Dirth.

The anticipated tax rate for the district, before adjustment for the common levels of appraisal (CLA) in each community is included, is $1.4158.

The CLA in both the city and Fairfield is under 100 percent, meaning that in both communities properties are selling at more than their assessed value as assessments lag behind the properties’ actual value. In the town, meanwhile, the CLA remains over 100 percent, a result of properties selling at slightly less than their assessed value.

Because properties in the town are overvalued and properties in the other two towns are undervalued, the CLA is used to adjust the property tax rate so that town residents are not overpaying and city and Fairfield residents underpaying.

Once the CLA is added, the anticipated tax rates are:

• $1.5546 in St. Albans City;

• $1.3898 in St. Albans Town;

• $1.5511 in Fairfield.

In each case the change is less than one cent from the current year.

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