SHARON – Since 2005, the Sharon Academy has been giving lessons in yurts in front of his high school building. They were always meant to be a temporary solution to the need for classroom space.
Now, with the independent high school planning a new build, the yurts must go.
“We were basically told that we couldn’t make any improvements to the building without replacing the yurts,” said Mary Newman, school principal at Sharon Academy on Monday.
The construction plan, in preparation for a decade, would replace the yurts with a new 5,300 square foot wing including a science laboratory; a maker-space for hands-on learning; a large soundproofed science-based classroom; and a smaller classroom, said John Roe, chairman of the school’s board. The project also includes the installation of sprinklers in the school.
There will be a public hearing from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday night on the plans as part of the school’s application for a USDA rural development loan for community facilities. If this request is accepted, the school will also be able to convert an existing classroom into a kitchen, add changing rooms to its gymnasium and carry out repairs to the roof of the gymnasium in preparation for the installation of panels. solar in the future. The project would also add 23 spaces to the cramped high school parking lot.
If the school can get the federal loan, the construction will cost about $ 3 million, Roe said, with about $ 1.9 million coming from the loan and $ 1.1 million in donations, including $ 300,000 from the Jack and Dorothy Byrne Foundation and $ 50,000 from the Mascoma Bank Foundation. .
If this loan is not successful, the school will have to find another source of funding for the loan, most likely the Vermont Economic Development Authority, which charges a higher interest rate because the loans are run by the banks and sets a much shorter repayment. program, 15 to 20 years old, rather than the 35 years of the USDA program. The higher cost of borrowing would reduce the construction plan.
Because it is not a public school, Sharon Academy cannot partner for construction projects. However, increasing the cost of the project through loans and grants allows the school to build without increasing its tuition fees, which are mainly paid by public school districts which offer the choice for high school.
Regardless of the funding, the yurts are coming out. Two were installed in 2005, and two more thereafter. They are right in front of the school and have become one of the hallmarks of the high school, which sits on a cliff above Highway 14, north of Sharon Village.
Firefighters said if the school were to make any improvements, they should include removing the yurts, Roe said. With increased concerns about school safety, yurts are also not particularly secure, Roe said. The school will also save energy by not having to heat the yurts.
The project aims to support the current activities of the school and to prepare it for the future.
“It’s like we’re building the building that will support what we’ve always done,” Newman said. For example, the whole school is involved in the production of a play, and the students have built sets in the hallways. The designer space will give this work a proper home, Newman said.
The new classrooms are meant to be flexible spaces, adaptable to a wide range of uses, said Roe, which would allow the school to adapt in the long run.
“If there’s one theme, it’s always looking to the future,” and not restricting the school’s ability to adapt to it, said Roe.
The new classrooms are not intended to allow the school to add students. School officials said they plan to maintain the current enrollment of around 120 in the high school and 40 in the middle school, which is at a separate site in Sharon.
Roe, a Sharon resident whose three children attended Sharon Academy, extended his time on the school board to help complete the construction project. He and Michael Livingston, who retired as a principal last year, worked on the project for 10 years. Livingston, who is now principal of Tunbridge Central School, said the project “positions the school well for the future” and could make the school a STEM center for middle and high school students in eastern Vermont. .
“I will be very excited to see it come to fruition,” Livingston said on Monday.
Construction is expected to begin next spring, Roe said.
Several people have expressed interest in taking possession of one of the yurts once they have been dismantled, Newman said. One will remain during construction as an office for the construction company.
Alex Hanson can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3207.