BURLINGTON, Vt. (WFFF) — The Burlington School District will lease the empty Macy’s building on Cherry Street as temporary classroom space for students forced out of Burlington High School by PCB contamination.
The $10 million lease allows the district to use the building for three and a half years, and the space can be used for other needs once the high school is safe for students again. The lease will only go into effect if the site meets environmental safety standards.
District officials say the Macy’s building should be ready for students by late February.
“This is an unfortunate situation, but we need to present to you a path forward for all of you to be able to communicate to your students where they’re going to school this year,” said School Board Chair Clare Wool.
Prior to voting, the board discussed an alternative option: Renting out trailers to be used as classrooms.
Because crews would have to assemble them in frigid conditions, they wouldn’t have been ready to use until May or June. They also would have cost $3 million more than the Macy’s building over the same three and a half year span.
The Macy’s building can also be used while the high school undergoes $70 million renovations. Superintendent Tom Flanagan said that could be a silver lining.
“We will allow the space to be free for construction to happen,” Flanagan said. “We know construction can happen in less time at BHS if we’re not on the grounds.”
Flanagan added that the trailers would’ve likely occupied athletic fields and crowded construction, and other District officials said they would have been difficult to keep wheelchair accessible in the winter months. The Macy’s building is already fully accessible.
When it comes to financing the $10 million lease, Flanagan said the State needs to step up.
“We are going to need help,” Flanagan said. “We’ve had productive conversations with the Governor and his team, and productive follow up in the last ten days. We’re going to work hard to make sure we’re supported in this.”
The District was also looking toward the University of Vermont for additional classroom space, but the University said in a news release Tuesday that it’s unable to do so because of the surge in COVID-19 cases across the region.
“This has been an extremely difficult decision, especially given the needs of BHS students and the productive conversations we had with school administrators prior to the surge,” said UVM Provost Patty Prelock. “However, the university must do all it can to protect the staff, students and faculty—many of whom are involved in medical research and healthcare services—who will remain on campus over winter break.”
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