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Burlington School Board receives update on high school construction project

Burlington High School sign
Pat Bradley
Burlington High School sign

The Burlington, Vermont School Board received an update this week on the design for the city’s new high school and technical center.

The designers of the new building to replace the PCB-contaminated Burlington High School and Technical Center are finalizing designs so that a bond to fund the project can go before city voters in November.

During the latest school board meeting DRA Architects President Carl Franceschi detailed design revisions. He said the major change since their last presentation is the scope of the project now that some of the technical center programs will move to the Burlington International Airport.

“We're now at a building that is about 268,000 square feet. Some of the features in it: we're really excited about this concept of a student commons being the heart of the building. The academic portions of Burlington High School will stack on three levels, each with a variety of classroom sizes. There are still five tech center programs in the school. It still is a combined high school and tech center.”

The city has cautioned that there is a $150 million bonding cap, but the project may need as much as $165 million. The district is partnering with the Burlington Student Fund for private fundraising and with the Burlington Students Foundation to secure grants and further private donations.

Supervisor Tom Flanagan provided a similar presentation to the City Council the previous evening and anticipated school board members would also ask whether the bond vote should be delayed.

“It's clear that there would be catastrophic effects of not moving forward with the bond vote in November. There are two major reasons. The first reason is cost. If we were to delay a bond vote, the cost of the project rises, and the only reason to delay the vote would be to bring the cost down through finding other sources of revenue for the project. But those two things can happen at the same time. We can go out for bond with a number that is the high end of the number knowing that we are raising funds to offset some of the cost of the bond so we don't actually have to borrow everything that that we've asked for in the bond vote.”

Burlington has a goal of Net Zero energy use in all city owned heating and ground transportation sectors by 2030. The new high school is being designed to be net zero. School Board Chair Clare Wool summarized several of the questions from board members directed to architectural firm Freemen French Freeman President Jesse Beck.

"Because we're at that estimating costs stage in schematic design and we're supportive of our city and BED on the Net Zero, this would be a critical juncture for us to understand the energy model.”

“The real definition of Net Zero," responds Beck, "is that your building produces more energy than it consumes and it does it with onsite fuel sources. So that's why we talk a lot about geothermal wells, electrification of the building, heat pumps, and a system that can heat and cool your building on site with solar panels.”

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