Burlington School Board Votes to Relocate Some Tech Center Programs to Airport | Education | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Burlington School Board Votes to Relocate Some Tech Center Programs to Airport


Published June 22, 2022 at 8:24 p.m.

Burlington Technical Center students in the aviation program - FILE: OLIVER PARINI ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Oliver Parini ©️ Seven Days
  • Burlington Technical Center students in the aviation program
The Burlington School Board voted Wednesday to alter plans for the district's new high school and technical center in an effort to cut costs.

Commissioners voted unanimously to approve relocating the so-called "high-bay" technical center programs — those that require a large amount of space, such as automotive and manufacturing — to a new Aviation Education Center, which will be located at Burlington International Airport. The move will save the district around $20 million.

The change was spurred by a potential funding gap for the project, which surfaced earlier this month, after Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said that the city would prefer the school district's November bond for the new build not exceed $150 million. The city and school district have a combined borrowing capacity that limits how much debt the two entities can carry each year. Going above that limit could threaten the city's credit rating and result in a higher bond interest rate for both this project and others going forward.

The full high school and tech center project, to be located on the Institute Road site of the old high school, was initially expected to cost around $210 million — $29 million of which would pay for the remediation and disposal of toxic PCBs that were detected in the building in 2020 and led to a shutdown of the campus.

The district has identified several funding sources to supplement the bond: $10 million from a prior bond allocation, $10 million in federal relief funds, and $5 million from school district surplus. Moving the high-bay tech programs off-site will shave around 20,000 square feet off the tech center, which would save the district around $20 million, Superintendent Tom Flanagan said. A $10 million federal grant secured by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to expand the tech center's aviation program will also help. 

The school district has had several meetings with electric airplane company Beta Technologies about basing the relocated tech center programs in a wing of a new building the company plans to build at the airport, Flanagan wrote in a June 14 memo. The district would prefer to own that wing. 

A spokesperson for Beta confirmed to Seven Days that the company discussed the proposal with district officials.

“We are exploring ways to partner with Burlington Technical Center to build collaborative programs that can catalyze education and workforce development opportunities in aviation and advanced manufacturing more broadly," the Beta statement reads. 
Even with the tech center changes, the school district is still likely to have a funding gap of $15 million. The district is aggressively pursuing state and federal money to make up that gap and has hired a consulting firm, Leonine Public Affairs, to help identify funding opportunities, Flanagan said.

In discussion before the vote, school Commissioner Jeff Wick said it's unfortunate that the state and federal government are not providing funds to remove PCBs or to help build the tech center.

"The governor says that tech education is where it's at for him. I think the legislature acknowledges that as well, our federal delegation; everybody believes in the broadening of education toward tech. But then when it comes time to ask for a check ... everybody's got really short arms," Wick said.

Before the vote, Flanagan told commissioners there was no time to waver on the decision.

"We can't start moving the high school [location] around or second guessing decisions we've made," he said. "We need a high school and we need it now."

On June 29, community members will get to see initial designs for the new building at a public forum. By mid-August, final design drawings, a more refined cost estimate for the project and a bond proposal will be presented to the school board ahead of a public vote in November.

At Wednesday's meeting, the board also approved the hiring of Jason Reed as the new director of the Burlington Technical Center. Reed previously worked as a teacher in the district's  Horizons Alternative Program for at-risk high school students. He is currently pursuing his provisional principal's license and will need to complete coursework to become  fully licensed as an administrator, Flanagan said.