The Burlington High School construction project may be modified because costs outweigh what the district can afford.
The city of Burlington gave the school district a bond limit of $150 million to pay for the construction of a new Burlington High School and Burlington Technical Center, yet the project is estimated to cost the Burlington School District $210 million.
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During Tuesday’s School Board meeting, Superintendent Tom Flanagan and the school commissioners discussed options to address the $60 million gap. The solutions proposed include finding additional funding sources and alterations to the design.
Breaking down the numbers
The school district is working to find the money necessary to continue with the Option C design that the board accepted on April 27.
The construction part of the project costs equate to $181.3 million. The additional expenses come from rolling in $29 million to remediate and remove the existing building which is contaminated with hazardous chemicals, PCBs.
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Superintendent Flanagan believes the school district will be able to cover remediation costs with federal and state funding. The challenge will be getting the money in time to do that work before the main construction needs to begin.
Flanagan said the federal Environmental Protection Agency provides funding of this kind and the Legislature approved spending $20 million in 2022 for PCB remediation across the state. While the state funding exists, Flanagan said the program has yet to determine how the money will be allocated.
The school district had already set aside $10 million from federal coronavirus recovery money to go toward the construction project and $5 million in school district surplus money over five years.
The school district is also entertaining using $10 million from the 2017 capital plan, some of which was originally intended for Burlington High School.
Flanagan said the capital plan would allow using the money for construction, but the School Board must first discuss the idea and allow the community to weigh in.
With those three sources identified, the district would still need to find an additional $35 million.
The district has hired a consultant to help find additional funding sources and the district administration met with Vermont’s congressional federal delegation on Monday to discuss whether any more federal money could aid the project.
Redesigning Burlington Technical Center
Another option for the school district is to move a part of the Burlington Technical Center’s aviation program off-site. The district has a $10 million grant secured by Sen. Patrick Leahy to establish a BTC Aviation Education Center at the Burlington International Airport.
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Flanagan said the aviation program and the “High Bays” that were in the Option C design could be moved to the airport. This would scale down the size of the building and bring total costs to around $190 million, a savings of $20 million.
“It would reduce the current footprint at the Institute Road plan and would connect programming like aviation, manufacturing and automotive closer to the industry where those jobs are,” Flanagan said during the meeting. “So, I actually think this is a good solution in many ways.”
Even with all the steps outlined above, the school district would still need to find $15 million.
The district has until mid-August to find the money and make final decisions before bringing the project to Burlington voters in early November for approval of the bond to pay for construction. Flanagan believes there is time to either find money or get commitments from federal and state sources by then.
During the board meeting, the commissioners discussed all of these options in closed executive session closed to the public. Flanagan recommended scheduling another meeting in a week for further discussions before the board votes on these items.
Due to these recent developments, the public forum to review a more detailed internal design of the project was moved back two weeks to June 29.
Contact reporter April Barton at [email protected] or 802-660-1854. Follow her on Twitter @aprildbarton.