Brattleboro school upgrade gets voters’ OK
An architect’s rendering of the Academy School project.

Brattleboro school upgrade gets voters’ OK

Voters from four district towns overwhelmingly approve Academy School renovation, expansion

BRATTLEBORO — By a vote of 508–126, voters of the Windham Southeast School District authorized spending up to $2 million to renovate portions of the Academy School on May 11.

The school, in West Brattleboro, serves students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

The renovation project includes improving indoor air quality, replacing windows in 14 classrooms, reconfiguring a classroom to support small group learning, demolishing a temporary modular unit, and adding an approximately-2,000- square-foot addition.

Engineering and architecture firm Stevens & Associates of Brattleboro is leading the project. Staff from Building Green, also in Brattleboro, consulted on the project with an eye toward sustainability, efficiency, and creating a healthy building environment for learners.

Project Architect Diane Abate explained that the addition to the existing school building will provide space for students receiving academic support and their teachers who use what she referred to as the Modular Temp Building.

This 1,500-square-foot modular structure, built for temporary use in 2008, stands separate from the main building and thus requires students to exit the school.

According to Cory Frehsee, a civil engineer and a partner of Stevens & Associates, the building has outlived its useful life. In the 2019 feasibility study conducted for the project, the study team noted that the temporary building had been in use at another site “for an undisclosed number of years” before it arrived at Academy.

The addition will also “relieve overcrowding of the current Resource Room used by students enrolled in individual education plans (IEPs),” Abate said.

During an informational meeting on May 6, Academy Principal Kelly Dias shared stories from teachers about what the renovation would mean for them and their students.

When completed, the renovation project will allow students who need additional academic support to work in quieter spaces geared to their educational needs.

According to Dias, the classroom that most special education teachers use resembles an open-plan office divided by movable partitions. The space can be loud and does not always support students' ability to focus.

As an example, Dias read a statement from a teacher. This teacher said she had to send a student with hearing issues out of the classroom and into a hallway to complete assignments.

During the public meeting, community members asked about other options for reducing costs.

Many of the options people suggested had been explored by the project team. In a previous school board meeting, WSESD Business Administrator Frank Rucker told the board that the administration planned to fund as much of the project through grant funding as it could, in hopes of reducing the amount of debt attached to the project.

Abutters highlighted that often in the spring, water flowing from the school's property tends to flood their property. They questioned whether the new construction would make matters worse.

Frehsee walked the audience through some of the stormwater management efforts - such as new culverts - planned for the project. He added that the project shouldn't create more water runoff since it won't expand the number of impervious surfaces at the school property.

Construction is expected to start this fall.

An evolving school footprint

The renovation project is not the first. According to the project's feasibility study and the Reformer of that era, Academy School was built in 1957 as a 35,000-square-foot elementary school.

As the student population increased, an addition - the Harold D. Miller Wing, named after its longtime principal - was built in 1979, creating six classrooms.

In 1995, a second construction project added an art studio, two classrooms, and the space now used by the Library Media Center.

To provide space for specialized academic programs, the temporary modular building was added in 2008.

Once the 2021 project is completed, the Academy School will have almost 52,000 square feet.

The WSESD serves students in the towns of Brattleboro, Dummerston, Guilford, and Putney.

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