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Burlington school district considers possibility of building new high school

Published: Apr. 30, 2021 at 11:29 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The Burlington School District has a major decision ahead now that the PCB contamination at the high school has been found to be more extensive than they originally thought.

Superintendent Tom Flanagan says the board will meet on Tuesday, May 4 to discuss their options.

Their first option is to continue with the renovation project for which taxpayers approved a $70 million bond. On top of that, the school district would have to budget an estimated $10 to $12 million for PCB remediation.

Flanagan is urging the board to seriously consider the possibility of building a brand new high school, which is the second option. He says if they move forward with the current renovation plan and are ultimately unsuccessful in eliminating the PCBs, they could risk losing millions of dollars.

“We are beyond remediation and certainly very close, if not there, beyond our ability to remediate and get back and take the risk of completing a $70 million renovation project and not being below the levels that we need to be in,” Flanagan said.

Flanagan says the cost of building a new school would likely exceed $70 million.

“But again, we’re already significantly over $70 million in the current project because of the findings of the PCBs,” he said.

Flanagan says they won’t have a cost estimate until they do a site assessment, determine the design of the campus and choose a location. He says there are limited options across the city but they’re considering land at Institute Road, where the current high school is.

“We could definitely look at that land again,” Flanagan said. “We have looked at that land in the past and there are places where I do believe we could build there.”

Flanagan says if the board does decide to scrap the renovation project, the school district would identify the cost of constructing a new campus and then ask taxpayers to approve a different bond. He says the $70 million that voters approved for the renovation project hasn’t been spent yet, so no money will be lost.

Flanagan says time is of the essence in choosing next steps.

“We have some important decisions now about our next steps in the next few months,” he said. “It’s important that we make these decisions soon because we have a timeline to get our students back into a high school that we need to be watching.”

It would take several years to build a new school. If that’s the route the board chooses, Flanagan says they also have the option of extending their lease at Downtown BHS in the former Macy’s building, which they currently have a three-and-a-half-year lease on.

Tuesday’s board meeting will be held via Zoom and Facebook Live at 6 p.m. Parents are encouraged to attend to give their input.

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