Monsanto asks judge to delay demolition of Burlington High School

Published: Dec. 20, 2022 at 10:58 AM EST|Updated: Dec. 20, 2022 at 4:57 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Burlington is on a tight timeline to build a new high school but a lawsuit over PCB contamination could set things back. PCB maker Monsanto has filed an emergency motion in federal court to delay the demolition of BHS.

Monsanto’s parent company, Bayer, filed a motion Monday seeking to postpone demolition, saying the school itself is key evidence in their ongoing legal battles with the city’s school district.

This fall, two different PCB-related lawsuits were filed, one by the school district which moved its high school students into the old Macy’s building downtown in 2021, and the other by educators who claim they were sickened by PCBs at BHS.

In the request for the demolition delay, Monsanto has only named the educators.

In a statement, Bayer said: “Monsanto has now filed a motion to preserve evidence seeking to have the federal district court in Vermont order that BSD preserve all relevant evidence in and related to the school until such time as the company is able to obtain the information it is seeking from BSD through subpoena, and conduct a full inspection of the BHS campus. Premature demolition of the high school by the Burlington School District would result in the improper destruction of evidence relevant to its own case as well as a pending personal injury case.”

I spoke to Vermont Law School Professor Jared Carter about the strategy of filing to postpone the demolition. He said Monsanto could feel it necessary to obtain evidence from the building or it could be gamesmanship.

“Obviously, if the Burlington School District is told they cannot demolish the building that puts additional pressure on them to perhaps reach some sort of agreement or settlement, who knows. Because they want to tear this down as soon as possible and need to because we need a high school and the voters voted to bond a new high school,” Carter said.

The lawyer for the educators says they will file a response soon. I reached out to the Burlington School District for comment but they declined.

Burlington voters passed a $165 million bond this past November to pay for the new school they hope to build in the same area the old building currently stands. The district hopes this lawsuit will help pay for that new school.

The new BHS was supposed to open in August 2025. If that’s delayed, where will the kids go to school? The Burlington School District has long said there is a tight timeline for this school with little wiggle room to make the most of all construction seasons.

The district has a contract with developer Don Sinex for the Macy’s property until July 2025. Sinex says the district has not formally asked about an extension at this time, but if they did ask for an extension, he would consider it.

PCBs are toxic industrial chemicals, now banned, that have accumulated in plants, fish, birds and people for decades. PCBs were used in many industrial and commercial applications, including in paint, coolants, sealants and hydraulic fluids.

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