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Burlington School District eyes former Macy’s building for alternate high school site

Published: Nov. 6, 2020 at 12:09 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The Burlington School Board Thursday authorized the superintendent to enter into negotiations on an alternative site for students after Burlington High School was vacated this fall due to PCB contamination concerns, and the former Macy’s building is a top contender.

The two options presented to the board Thursday night included remodeling the former department store in downtown Burlington, or renting modular trailers to be constructed on the Burlington High School baseball field.

Superintendent Tom Flanagan says district staff recommended the Macy’s option. Flanagan says it’s cheaper, with an estimated cost coming in around $6 to $7 million. But there are a number of drawbacks including there are no windows, there would not be a “full size” gym, walls would not be full ceiling height, there would have to be a new parking and transportation plan, and there is less available outdoor green space.

There are also concerns about possible soil contamination from a former laundromat at the Macy’s site, but it is not believed to impact the building. The Vermont Department for Environmental Conservation has offered to cover the cost of testing. Results would likely come in after 10 to 15 days, and a possible deal would be contingent on the results. It’s likely students could return to in-person learning at the building by February.

The second option would include renting 10 to 12 modular trailers to be placed on campus. Officials say it would allow some access to the high school gym, auditorium, kitchen, and cafeteria. But they say significant work would be needed to accommodate the trailers, including updating water lines, creating new driveways, and updates to stay within the city’s fire code. The work likely wouldn’t be finished before the spring, and is a more expensive option. Delivery and construction would cost upwards of $6 million, a two-and-a-half-year rental would cost $4.9 million, for a total of around $11 million.

All costs associated with the temporary space are not budgeted for, but it possible to dip into the funds already approved by voters, for the high school renovation project. Superintendent Flanagan says he also spoke with Governor Scott about the possibility of using state funding.

The alternate space will be used for at least two-and-a-half to possibly four years while the future of the high school campus is decided on, pending the results from more PCB tests. Flanagan says an emergency meeting will likely be called to get school board approval before entering an agreement. The longer the district waits, the longer it will take students to get back into the classroom.

Near the end of November, Burlington High School students are expected to return to classes in-person, on Wednesdays at the Edmunds School complex.

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