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Burlington School District Presents Detailed High School Plans


Published July 19, 2022 at 11:08 p.m.

An aerial-view of the proposed Burlington High School - COURTESY OF BURLINGTON SCHOOL DISTRICT
  • Courtesy of Burlington School District
  • An aerial-view of the proposed Burlington High School
At a school board meeting Tuesday night, Burlington superintendent Tom Flanagan and architects presented detailed plans for a new high school and technical center. School leaders hope to complete the roughly 268,000-square-foot building by August 2025, and Burlington residents will likely vote on a $165 million bond for the project in November.

Carl Franceschi, president of DRA Architects, walked school commissioners through the schematic design of the building, which includes a two-level student common area for dining and gathering, a 750-seat auditorium, a 12,000-square-foot student gym, a 5,500-square-foot community gym, and multiple outdoor learning spaces. With sustainability in mind, the design team is trying to determine the feasibility of making the building net zero — a term for a structure that consumes only as much energy as it produces — which is in line with the city's goals. Designers are also exploring the possibility of geothermal heating and cooling.
At a city council meeting on June 27, Councilor Sarah Carpenter (D-Ward 4) asked whether the school district should wait until Town Meeting Day in March to bond for the project. But on Tuesday, Flanagan said "there would be catastrophic effects" if there's not a bond vote in November.

Project costs will continue to rise the longer the school district waits to start the project, Flanagan said. And any delay will impact the city's 1,000 high school students, who are currently housed in the former Macy's building downtown on a lease that only goes through 2025.

Two independent cost estimators are currently working to determine the price tag for the project based on the schematic design, Franceschi told school commissioners. That figure should be finalized by late July, as will an estimated tax impact for Burlington residents. In August, the school board — then the Burlington City Council — will consider the bond.

Even with a $165 million bond, the district will likely need to raise some money for the project. The district recently partnered with the nonprofit Burlington Students Foundation in order to solicit grants and private donations. Flanagan said the district will make a  formal announcement about the partnership on Friday.
The district is still working with Beta Technologies and the Burlington International Airport officials to determine whether some tech center programs might fit into airport expansion plans, Flanagan said. The school district secured a $10 million federal grant earlier this year to support its tech center aviation program, the only one of its kind in the state. Flanagan characterized the potential collaboration as "a promising work in progress."
Another rendering of the proposed high school and tech center - COURTESY OF BURLINGTON SCHOOL DISTRICT
  • Courtesy of Burlington School District
  • Another rendering of the proposed high school and tech center
On Tuesday, the board also voted to prequalify the firms of PC Construction and Whiting-Turner as qualified bidders for the high school and tech center project, which enables them to submit a proposal to oversee construction. The district sent formal "Request for Qualifications" invitations to 13 firms, but only two responded.

PC Construction is headquartered in South Burlington. The firm is currently building a new biomedical research complex at the University of Vermont and was selected in June to complete the next phase of development at Spruce Peak in Stowe. Whiting-Turner, a firm with more than 50 locations across the country, built the Robert E. and Holly D. Miller Building at the University of Vermont Medical Center, which opened in 2019.

Because state law requires a minimum of three bids for such a project, the school district has requested a waiver from the Agency of Education. Nathan Lavery, the district's senior director of finance, said obtaining the waiver shouldn't be a problem. By law, the district must select the lowest bidder from the firms that prequalify and submit a bid.

"I think the natural question is 'Gee, should we be concerned that we only had two bidders?'" Lavery told commissioners. "I call it disappointing that we don't have more ... but that doesn't mean that we [won't] get a good, competitive price from one or both of these bidders."

Correction, July 20, 2022: A previous of this version contained the incorrect amount of the planned bond, which has gone up. The story also clarifies the potential fundraising needs for the district.