State lawmakers react to Burlington High School rebuild

Published: May. 6, 2021 at 12:02 AM EDT|Updated: May. 6, 2021 at 5:29 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - State lawmakers say Burlington High School isn’t the only school in the state that is in need of a major construction project.

“We certainly know that there are other schools that were built at the same time, so the chances that this extends to other school districts is quite high,” said Rep. Kathryn Webb, D-Shelburne, who is the chair of the Vermont House Education Committee.

Lawmakers believe Burlington’s pricey PCB problem is likely just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Vermont’s aging schools. Following the decision to rebuild the high school, the Burlington School District now needs to find a new location and figure out what to do with the land where harmful PCBs have seeped into the soil.

“It’s a serious issue. I’m not sure how Burlington is going to deal with this in terms of building a new high school. It’s going to be a lot of work, it’s going to be a big problem for the city of Burlington and a very expensive proposition,” said Rep. Larry Cupoli, R-Rutland, who is the vice-chair of the Vermont Committee on Education.

The Burlington School Board said it plans to reach out to state and federal leaders to see if there is any money available to supplement costs so city taxpayers don’t have to foot the entire bill, but it’s still early in the process.

Before the 2007 recession, funds were available through the state to assist schools that were taking on large construction projects. However, the fund has since dried up.

Webb says a bill working its way through the state Legislature would take an inventory of all 300 schools in the state to figure out where the major issues lie.

“We are hoping that with H.426, as it moves through, may get the district and our schools around the state in a better position to be able to apply for long-awaited construction repair,” she said.

Webb says getting this inventory would also include an assessment of air testing for PCBs in schools throughout the state. If they can get this list-- and figure out where the greatest needs lie-- it will make it easier to apply for federal funding for schools that will likely be included in the national infrastructure bill.

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