Consultant: Downtown Burlington High School option more costly

Published: Oct. 12, 2021 at 5:59 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Building a new high school in downtown Burlington would cost more and take longer to complete than other options on the table. That’s one of the findings in a new report being presented to the Burlington School Board Tuesday night.

Both cost and the time required to build a school to replace the facility closed last fall by PCB contamination are two of the main factors the consultants reviewed when it comes to choosing a downtown location and two sites on the current high school property.

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger asked the school board specifically to look at the so-called “Gateway Block” option on Main Street, where Memorial Auditorium is located. But the conclusions from consulting firm White and Burke indicate that building there faces significant time and cost issues at nearly every juncture, from further site analysis and construction to even evaluating the ravine that runs through the property. The report also says it’s likely PCBs, asbestos, and lead would have to be cleaned up. To build on that site would mean a school of up to seven stories and would involve renovation of the fire station as well.

The consultants noted that both Institute Road sites -- where the old school is -- would generally result in fewer construction costs and shorter timelines. The north side, which is the same site as the old building, could potentially allow for the new school to be constructed while demolition and remediation take place at the old buildings, allowing for a quicker timeline. There are also many positives of the south side on the athletic fields, however, the geotechnical engineers believe that extensive fill needed at the site means it’s likely not suitable for foundation support.

The high school has been using a converted Macy’s department store since the discovery of PCB contamination last year. The school board is looking at presenting a bond measure to voters by either Town Meeting Day in March or the general election next November. They are aiming at getting into a new school by the fall of 2025. A final site decision is expected within the next month.

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