by Andrew Martin
HYDE PARK – Officials in Hyde Park are continuing to work on the Hyde Park Elementary School (HPES) Next 100 Years Project. After months of considering options while gathering information and public input the Hyde Park School Board and community members are moving forward with finding a solution for the problems posed by the aging school facility.
“As the superintendent of the SU [Supervisory Union] I get to see all of our campuses on a regular basis throughout the four seasons,” stated Lamoille North Supervisory Union Superintendent Joe Ciccolo, “There are challenges with the Hyde Park structure that can no longer be addressed as many items are past their useful life expectancy…”
As Ciccolo stated, there are a variety of issues currently confronting Hyde Park Elementary and the people who teach and learn there. One of the major issues is the fact that unlike many towns Hyde Park actually does not have a declining student population. Instead the population has far exceeded the space available for its students. Along with not having enough room for students, many of the rooms at school have been repurposed repeatedly over the last few years and are now shared spaces between programs or classes that need their own spaces. One example of this is the current preschool room, which is not sized properly for students of that age and is lacking the proper space for children just beginning school. Another is the fact that departments like special education should have their own rooms and areas, but are often forced to share them.
“We are at a tipping point between inconvenience and slight dysfunction to not being able to educate our students safely and properly,” commented HPES Principal Diane Reilly.
According to Reilly and art teacher Matt Neckers other issues at the school include lack of ventilation, proper heating, and a need to be much more energy efficient, which could help save a great deal of money in the future. Many rooms in the older portions of the building also lack enough electrical outlets, and there need to be more restroom facilities throughout the school. A small kitchen, leaky roofs, poor fire safety, and the lack of an elevator to the upper floors are all other problems facing HPES.
In order to attempt to find a solution for these problems during the past fall, the board and the group of community members continued to work on the project to renovate the existing buildings. A vote in October by the school board also made it official that the project would move forward with a plan to renovate-as-new the existing facility, rather than relocating outside Hyde Park Village.
“I was glad to hear that a majority of the feedback from the forums and questionnaires suggested a realization of the importance of the school and its historic place in the village,” stated Hyde Park resident Rebecca Dennis, who is serving on the committee charged with interviewing and selecting an architectural firm for the project, “I feel that there is a hyper-awareness on the part of the board of the need for balance between making this a project that meets the needs of the future and renovates/builds to fit those requirements, while remaining mindful of the economy and families’ budgets today.”
Following the decision to stay in the village the next step in the project was the development and distribution of a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) that listed the needs and expectations for the Next 100 Years Project for architectural firms. The school board worked with the group of community members on the RFQ.
A total of seven architectural firms submitted responses to the RFQ, and after a review process, five of the firms were invited to interview with the group of Hyde Park citizens, teachers, board members, and administrative staff on January 11. While one of the firms withdrew, the four remaining in consideration are Silver Ridge Design, Truex-Cullins, Banwell Architects, and Dore and Whittier Associates. Those four firms are being considered and studied by the group working on the project.
“…in the next couple weeks we’ll be visiting sites to see comparable projects completed by each of the firms we are presently considering,” explained Chairwoman Walters, “Site visits will be completed … in early February and we aim to make a decision as quickly as is prudent thereafter so that the chosen architect can get to work with us on developing proposals that meet our needs.”
Walters went on to explain that during the upcoming design proposal phase the group running the project will continue to partake in ‘vigorous community involvement’, which will include special community forums held at different times and days of the week in order to allow community members to attend no matter their schedule.
“We will continue to use every means possible to reach out to engage voters in the discussion,” explained Walters, who when asked about a possible conclusion to the planning process also stated, “We anticipate a bond vote in November.”
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Hyde Park School Board is on Monday, February 4, at 6:30 p.m. in the Hyde Park Elementary School Library. Another meeting will be held on March 4, and a full update on the project will be given to the community at Town Meeting on March 5. The group working on the project is looking for further community members looking to be part of the process. Principal Reilly is also willing to give any interested resident of the town a tour of the school in order to better demonstrate the need for a renovated building.
“This board takes extremely seriously its responsibility to act on behalf of, and in interests of, our whole community,” stated Chairwoman Walters, “We were gratified by the thoughtful exchange of ideas that occurred during the first phase of the project. We need to hear from Hyde Park residents in order to do what is best for our community, and we very much hope that our neighbors will continue to involve themselves in the process and make their voices heard.”
“My personal opinion is that the board has done an amazing job being very transparent and painstakingly reaching out to all corners of the Hyde Park and North Hyde Park communities to get input, provide information and answer questions,” commented Rebecca Dennis. “I’m excited by the prospect of this being a real opportunity to build community connection and involvement… I believe that this is a gift not only for our children but for the community as a whole,” stated Dennis, “It’s a legacy that can continue to be handed down through each generation.”
“I truly feel it is the best time to consider this project,” stated Superintendent Ciccolo, “Labor costs are cheap.” Ciccolo went on to explain that moving forward he will be working with the board and committee in Hyde Park in the process, especially in the area of communicating the process and decisions with the public. He also pointed to the success in other local towns like Cambridge and Johnson where older school buildings were successfully transformed into new, more modern schools.