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Burlington School Board receives update on high school construction costs

Burlington High School sign
Pat Bradley
Burlington High School sign

The Burlington, Vermont School Boardheard a brief report Tuesday from the school superintendent regarding a gap in the projected cost to build a new high school and the amount that can be bonded for the project.

The Burlington High School and Technical Center was permanently closed in September 2020 after the discovery of PCB contamination in the buildings. In late April the school board selected one of five conceptual designs to rebuild the high school and technical center. That advanced the project into a schematic design phase where floor plans, structural systems and total square footage are determined.

During the board’s meeting Tuesday evening, District Superintendent Tom Flanagan said the project is now at an important juncture regarding funding decisions.

“The anticipated cost of that design was $181.3 million, which was the lowest cost design option. In addition to design costs PCB remediation has been estimated and is still estimated at $29 million.”

Flanagan noted that the EPA has some funding available to help clean up PCB’s. He added that the state legislature approved money in the budget for PCB remediation in schools but there is not yet a program to access the funds. Ward 4 Commissioner Martine Gulick clarified that $22 million was set aside by the state for fiscal year 2022.

“There’s also a possibility of an extra $10 million if there is a surplus in the ed fund. And I guess I just wanted to make it clear that at least it’s my understanding that that’s FY22 and that there could be more monies coming forward in FY23, 24, etcetera. I don’t want people to think that there’ll never be any more money for PCB’s.”

The district planned to ask voters to approve a bond to finance the project. But the city is capped at $150 million in bonding for the project. Flanagan said they are working to identify other funding options.

“With the $181 million and the $30 million we have set aside $10 million in ESSR funds, $5 million in district surplus over the next five years. We think we should also be able to use $10 million from the 2017 Capital Plan. So that leaves us, out of the 181, 175 million of revenue sources. Meaning we would need to identify an additional $35 million for the original project that was $210 million.”

The school operates an aviation program at the Burlington International Airport. Flanagan said shifting the tech center’s planned aviation education center to the airport would save money.

“This would reduce the footprint of the current planned building. That could produce a potential savings of $20 million. This would put the new project cost at $190 million but would still need to identify funding at $15 million given a $150 million bond.”

The Burlington School Board went into executive session to further discuss the financial issues and did not report any findings or conclusions when they returned.

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