BURLINGTON — The Burlington School Board has approved a roughly $181 million project for the city’s proposed new high school — the lowest-priced option presented to it.
In a unanimous vote Wednesday night, board members approved a “conceptual design” that would combine the city high school and a regional vocational school, Burlington Technical Center, in a building next to the Institute Road site of its former high school. .
The district stopped using most of the New North End campus in 2020, after cancer-causing chemicals were discovered in the six main buildings. For the past two academic years, Burlington students have taken classes in a renovated downtown department store.
The design for the new building, which was approved by Superintendent Tom Flanagan, was one of five presented to the council. The cost of the options ranged from $181 million to $197 million.
Once its design has been approved, the new building now enters a “schematic design” phase, after which officials expect to be able to better estimate the overall cost of the project. Flanagan said the school district hopes to present residents with a bond proposal by early August, which they would vote on in the November election.
The district is looking to open the new school in the fall of 2025.
In addition to tax liability, district officials intend to seek funding through avenues not directly within the purview of municipal taxpayers, such as state and local grants. The district also hopes to hire a full-time staff member to raise funds for the project through private donations.
The conceptual design of the new building delineates its general form and the location of certain components of the school, such as its auditorium, gymnasium and science laboratories. But more specific details about the building will emerge in its schematic design phase, Flanagan said.
“While we have a big decision tonight, there will still be significant leeway to refine the design,” the superintendent said.
The design option chosen by the commissioners, dubbed “Option C,” has a hitch: all old buildings on campus must be razed before work can begin on the new one.
This sequencing is problematic because the district still uses an on-campus facility. “Building A,” which had the fewest detectable toxins, still hosts sports events and performances, and meals from its kitchen serve several schools in the district.
District officials did not specify how they would maintain operations currently housed in Building A during its demolition.
“We don’t know yet if we will be renting gym space (and kitchen space), or how much it will cost, but we believe there are solutions available (including using other BSD gyms and gyms in the greater Burlington area),” the project’s development team wrote in a memo.
The board could have chosen another option that would have largely replicated the chosen design, but would have allowed Building A to remain standing until most of the new high school was completed. However, this would have meant delaying the construction of the Burlington Technical Center by at least a year, which the commissioners did not like.
The layout of the technical center remains a contested subject. A handful of speakers slammed the council during the meeting’s public forum period on Wednesday night, saying they didn’t properly consider input from surrounding towns, which — as part of a regional district — send students In the center.
“If you want to optimize the building for your own vision, that’s OK. You should build it yourself and be on your own,” said Chuck Lacy, a Jericho school board member and former president of Ben and Jerry’s. “This direction, in our opinion, is breaking up the neighborhood (of the technical center).”
But Burlington officials pushed back on that sentiment.
Jason Gingold, executive director of the technical center, said Burlington officials will seek more detailed feedback on the center’s design at future meetings. Flanagan, meanwhile, said a broader overhaul of the tech center’s governance would take years — too long to contemplate as part of the construction of the new school.
“As one of the most racially, culturally, and economically diverse districts in our state, we must act now to prioritize deeper learning tied to high-skill, high-paying, high-demand jobs. in our city and our state,” Flanagan mentioned.
School district officials expect to present the schematic design of the project to the board in late June or early July.
If you want to keep tabs on Vermont education news, sign up here to receive a weekly email with all of VTDigger’s reports on higher education, early childhood programs, and school policy. K-12 education.