Burlington School District to look for new location for BHS students

Published: Sep. 29, 2020 at 5:55 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 30, 2020 at 4:44 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The Burlington School District is discussing the next steps for Burlington High School after PCB contamination shut it down earlier this month and sent students back to full-time remote-learning.

At a town hall meeting on Tuesday, Superintendent Tom Flanagan said it could take at least three months for consultants to determine if there could be additional contributing factors for elevated PCBs in the building. He said the goal right now is getting those PCB levels down to a level appropriate under EPA guidelines, so they will continue to conduct testing and remediation efforts.

“The question is do we move back in? Do we test and remediate to a place where the BHS building is safe and healthy before we get into renovations there?” Flanagan said.

In the meantime, Flanagan says students will continue remote learning, but they’re also looking for alternative spaces for students to eventually go for in-person learning.

The PCB levels were significantly high in building F where the technical center is. Flanagan says finding a new space for those students may not be too difficult considering they’re a small group. He also says some of those programs are OK in nontraditional settings. He says it will likely be harder to relocate high school students because there are more of them.

“Burlington High School has about 970 students, so to find a space for about 1,000 students is much more challenging, but we’re really being aggressive about finding alternative spaces and we have a lot of local partners that have stepped up and say they want to help so that’s something that is definitely a possibility— getting into a space for Burlington High School," Flanagan said.

One option Flanagan suggested at the town hall is to find an alternative space and outfit it for two years, or the amount of time it will take to complete the high school renovation project. But he says relocating that many kids won’t be easy or cheap.

“And they are not quick fixes because in a building that may have a lot of square footage of empty space, you have to build walls and outfit that space to be able to be a school," he said.

Flanagan says the goal of the town hall was to inform parents of this plan and to get their feedback.

“One of the things we’re really committed to is making sure we’re having open and transparent engagement and communication with our families and our staff. We know there are a lot of concerns out there and we want to hear from our community. We want to listen to our community. When we listen, we make better decisions,” he said.

Flanagan says the school district is working with the school board, Mayor Miro Weinberger and city councilors on the alternative option plan. However, he says the district wants more support from the state and needs to fight for more funding and more construction aide.

Related Stories:

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PCBs closure could jump-start $70M BHS renovation plans

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Health officials: BHS PCB contamination far exceeds state, federal safety levels

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