Burlington School District narrows search for site of new high school

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BURLINGTON, Vt. – The Burlington School District has narrowed its search for a new high school site down to two options.

The first would be a site near the former Burlington High School on Institute Road, either near the current building or across the street where the school’s athletic fields currently sit.

The other option would keep students downtown on the Gateway Block site currently occupied by Memorial Auditorium, which has been condemned since 2016.

Superintendent Tom Flanagan said the early consensus among the community seems to be pulling toward Institute Road.

“People really like that there’s accessibility with the buses, the bike path, and there’s proximity to the lake and the woods,” Flanagan said. “There’s open space with a campus we already own, right?”

Although parents and the larger community appear to have a favorite, there are some who prefer the Gateway Block, and Mayor Miro Weinberger has also urged the Burlington School Board to take a close look at the site.

“They really like the idea of what we’re doing now at Downtown BHS,” Flanagan said. “The partnership with the city, and helping create vibrancy downtown.”

Each location brings its own set of challenges, chief among them at Institute Road would be addressing PCB contamination, which forced the school to shut down last year. That process could cost up to $20 million, but Flanagan said it would have to be dealt with in some capacity either way.

Meanwhile, at the Gateway Block, it’s not as simple as just knocking down Memorial Auditorium and other nearby structures.

“We would need to look at the feasibility of that building,” Flanagan said. “If we were to move to Gateway, would we keep that building and build alongside it? Build off of it? I know it’s historic, so we have some things to work through there.”

School Board Chair Clare Wool said key factors include the timeline and the cost to taxpayers. She added that soil quality will factor heavily into the decision.

“The soil at the Gateway Block, can it withstand a four or five story building?” Wool said. “The soil at Institute Road, once mitigated and cleaned up, what part of the property is buildable? That is our number one analysis of both locations.”

Both sites will be studied over the coming weeks by the consulting firm White & Burke, which has worked with the district throughout the entire process. The district hopes to have a final decision made by early November.

PCB contamination at the existing high school campus prompted school officials to close it last year.

In March, students started attending classes at the former Macy’s Department Store building downtown. The district is several months into a three and a half year lease, but it can be extended if necessary. The hope is to have the new school ready by August 2025.

“It’s a really aggressive timeline, and it will be challenging to meet so its important to make sure that we’re getting the right site, don’t rush, hear feedback, and we make decisions quickly when we know what the decision should be,” Flanagan said in August.

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