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Burlington School Board decides to rebuild high school

Published: May. 5, 2021 at 12:35 AM EDT|Updated: May. 5, 2021 at 4:47 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The Burlington School Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to pursue plans to build a new high school instead of remediating the current one.

Potentially cancer-causing chemicals known as PCBs were first found on parts of the campus last year.

After months of continuing to find more and more PCB contamination inside the building, the superintendent and school board decided to abandon their re-envisioning project and instead pursue a new building in a new location.

“I am wholeheartedly in support of scrapping and figuring out an alternative site,” said Jean Waltz, a member of the Burlington School Board.

School board members are speaking out on the need for a new school after it became clear they couldn’t do enough remediation to get the PCB contamination to safe enough levels.

The harmful chemicals were found in light fixtures, floor tiles, concrete and even the soil on the campus.

Now, the work begins on identifying a site for the new building.

“I believe strongly we have enough information now to make the decision to end the project and start aggressively moving with a site assessment to identify other sites. But I feel really strongly there are viable sites for us to build,” Burlington Schools Superintendent Tom Flanagan said.

Until a new school is built, high school students will continue at downtown BHS inside the old Macy’s building.

The $70 million re-envisioning project is also scrapped and the associated contracts will be severed.

Out of that $70 million, the school has spent less than $4 million.

They can give back the $20 million they’ve borrowed so far and hold onto the authority to use the remaining $46 million once they have a better idea of what construction will look like.

Taxpayers will likely have to vote on a different bond in the future, however, board members agreed they would explore other options so the price tag will not lie solely on the backs of Burlingtonians.

“Another big piece of our next steps will be working with our state delegation and our federal delegation to say what other sources of money could be out there to support the new high school as well as the cleanup efforts,” said Nathan Lavery, the senior finance director.

There used to be a dedicated fund to help schools with the fiscal restraints of building large projects like Burlington will have to. However, that program was canceled.

Legislators I spoke to said they also would be willing to push for additional funds from the state and even federal government, however, it’s still early in the process.

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