October 3, 2023
Burlington voters weigh a 5 million bond for a brand new highschool
Burlington voters weigh a 5 million bond for a brand new highschool
Burlington Excessive Faculty on Oct. 20, 2020. File photograph by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Leaders of an effort to approve a $165 million bond to construct a brand new highschool in Burlington have landed on a reasonably direct catchphrase: “We’d like a highschool.” 

Blue garden indicators in help of the vote have been extremely seen in Burlington within the lead-up to the Nov. 8 election, when residents will settle the bond query.

However in latest weeks, opponents of the hassle have tried to make their argument, as effectively — largely by means of pink garden indicators that learn “sufficient is sufficient.” These against the bond say the worth tag is simply too excessive.

For the Burlington Faculty District, although, a defeat can be difficult. 

“We’re with no highschool if this doesn’t move, merely acknowledged,” stated Clare Wool, chair of the Burlington Faculty Board.

Since 2020, Burlington Excessive Faculty has been working out of a short lived location within the former Macy’s division retailer downtown, following the invention of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, within the constructing.

The Macy’s lease prices the district $1.5 million a yr, in response to Wool. That association is because of finish in 2025, so even with passage of the bond measure, the development timeline can be aggressive.

However in response to Superintendent Tom Flanagan, it’s achievable.

“Proper now, 2025 is completely potential,” Flanagan stated. “We consider. And that is what we have heard from all of our specialists who’re engaged on this.”

Don Sinex, who owns the previous Macy’s constructing, stated in an e mail Thursday that he plans to develop the constructing for  “blended use” functions as soon as the highschool’s lease is up in July 2025.

“I had already been engaged on a complete redevelopment plan earlier than the varsity board contacted me about the potential of leasing the Macy’s constructing whereas the varsity board decided the extra everlasting highschool resolution,” Sinex stated. As soon as the lease was in place, Sinex stated, he put these growth plans on maintain.

The opportunity of extending the lease absent a brand new faculty in 2025 wouldn’t be Sinex’s “first alternative,” he stated. However ought to the varsity want the Macy’s constructing, “that’s one thing I might think about when such a request is made.”

The Burlington Excessive Faculty campus on Institute Highway has been vacant because the PCB contamination was found. Initially that constructing was slated for a renovation venture, however the contamination drove faculty leaders to push for a wholly new constructing. The district thought of a number of websites earlier than lastly returning to the unique campus, the place development would happen following demolition of the outdated highschool and remediation of the PCB contamination.

The district is at the moment planning to sue the agrochemical firm Monsanto for damages associated to the PCBs, together with the price of constructing a brand new faculty.

Among the many opponents of the bond vote is the pinnacle of the Burlington Republican Get together, Christopher-Aaron Felker, who stated in an emailed assertion that the bond quantity pushes previous town’s borrowing energy.

“Whereas it’s true that every part we spend money on educating our youngsters is cash well-spent, we can not spend greater than the taxpayers will pay,” Felker stated in an e mail. “Our metropolis merely can not afford this venture as at the moment introduced.”

Ericka Redic, a Burlington resident and Libertarian candidate for U.S. Home, stated it was “irresponsible and unconscionable” that the district would ship such a excessive greenback quantity to voters.

The estimate of the venture involves $190 million, the district stated. After $25 million in contributions from the district itself, it hopes to borrow $165 million in bonds for the remainder of the venture. 

Borrowing the complete quantity would lead to tax will increase for Burlington residents. The college district shared tax implications that present funds would rise starting in 2024, then peak from 2026 till 2044.

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger stated in an emailed assertion Thursday that he intends to vote “sure” on the bond “as a result of our children want and deserve the nice highschool, and we have to get it finished as rapidly as we are able to.”

However Weinberger additionally stated he shared considerations that some have concerning the ensuing influence on taxes and borrowing. Weinberger stated town and the varsity district lately agreed to work collectively to seek out different funding sources, which would cut back the tax burden and scale back venture prices. The town and district may even limit different borrowing “till we’re again inside the borrowing targets,” Weinberger stated.

In 2018, Burlington voters authorised a $70 million bond, however that was for a renovation solely. It was through the planning phases for that renovation that the PCB contamination was found. All however $4 million of the $70 million was returned or by no means borrowed, the varsity district stated. The funds had been spent on venture design and PCB testing, in response to statements on the district web site.

Wool, the varsity board chair, stated she believes Burlington has a status for supporting college students and that the result of the bond vote will mirror that.

“I actually consider that each citizen needs the very best for our college students,” Wool stated. “And that’s finally why we work arduous and why I’m remaining optimistic.”

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