The Burlington School Board on Tuesday will consider approving an agreement to convert the former Macy's store downtown into a high school while the district investigates cancer-causing chemicals found on campus.
District officials have agreed to lease the 150,000-square-foot vacant storefront for $8 per square foot, plus taxes, utilities and insurance, for three and a half years, according to a memo from Superintendent Tom Flanagan.
Rent would cost $1.2 million in year one and would increase by 3 percent each subsequent year. The Cherry Street building is owned by the developers of the CityPlace Burlington project, which is slated for construction on an adjacent parcel.
School commissioners earlier this month agreed to allow Flanagan to pursue a lease but have not yet signed off on its terms. If the deal is approved, the district would also pay more than $3 million to fit up the space before students could move in early next year, according to Dave Farrington, one of the owners.
The district is seeking state and federal funding for the project, Flanagan's memo says.
The district began considering alternate high school spaces in September when air quality tests at the Burlington Technical Center building found polychlorinated biphenyls at levels 10 times higher than federal safety standards. "PCBs" is a catchall for more than 200 manmade chemicals, commonly found in buildings constructed between 1950 and 1979. Burlington High School was built in 1964.
The tests were done in preparation for a $70 million renovation of the high school campus. After further testing detected PCBs in every school building, Flanagan canceled in-person classes while the school evaluated its options.
The news was crushing for parents and students, who, after a semester of online learning during the coronavirus pandemic, were excited for traditional teaching to resume this school year.
Farrington began meeting with school officials in October. Documents obtained by Seven Days show that the developers had initially asked the district for $17 per square foot. School officials countered with $8, which the CityPlace team OK'd late last week.
The agreement is subject to the results of air quality and ambient noise testing that Farrington said will be conducted in the next few weeks. The noise tests will include estimated sound levels for construction at CityPlace, which developers hope to begin by September 2021.
The cavernous Macy's space would be retrofitted with 8-foot-high classroom walls. While those walls won't extend from floor to ceiling, the design includes enclosed spaces for the music room and a multipurpose room that would be used as a gym, Farrington said.
School officials had also considered renting modular trailers for between $8 and $10 million. The structures would have required "significant site work" ahead of time and likely wouldn't be ready by spring, according to district officials.
The school board will discuss the Macy's agreement in executive session Tuesday before opening for a public discussion. The meeting begins at 6 p.m.