- Courtesy of Burlington School District
- An architectural rendering of the new high school
Burlington voters on Tuesday gave the green light to a $165 million bond to build a new high school and technical center. Seventy-six percent of Queen City voters approved the measure; 11,902 voted yes compared to 3,781 who voted no.
The passage gives the school district the go-ahead to commence a massive, multiyear construction project, which will require tearing down Burlington's original Institute Road high school and building a new 250,000-square-foot building in its place. The district plans to begin work in December or January, with a projected completion date of August 2025.
At Simple Roots Brewing in the New North End, school officials and supporters of the project gathered to watch results come in. Communications staffer Russ Elek stood on a chair and read results as they came in from each ward; the crowd cheered each time.
Mayor Miro Weinberger also expressed enthusiasm about the result.
The school district determined a new building was necessary after high levels of airborne PCBs were found on its Institute Road campus in fall 2020, ahead of a planned $70 million renovation of the original, deteriorating high school, which first opened to students in 1964. Since March 2021, Burlington teens have been attending class downtown in a renovated former Macy’s department store, which some students have said is an inadequate space in which to learn.
Meanwhile, former school commissioner David Kirk purchased signs urging voters to reject the bond and put them around town with the help of volunteers, but the opposition appeared less organized.
The passage of the bond means a likely increase in property taxes for homeowners, who are still smarting from last year’s property reappraisal, which raised taxes for many of them. The $165 million will be borrowed over three years, beginning in 2023, with the tax increase phased in beginning in 2024.
The school district estimates taxes will increase by 2.85 percent in 2024, by another 6.65 percent in 2025, and by 6.17 percent in 2026, for a total impact of 15.67 percent . Estimates released by the school district show that, when the money is fully borrowed, a home assessed at $370,000 — close to the city's median assessed value — would pay an additional $805 a year in taxes, or about $67 more a month.
The school district vowed to do everything in its power to reduce the amount it has to borrow for the new school, including seeking state and federal grants and conducting private fundraising.
To date, the Burlington Students Foundation has received around $62,500 in donations for the new building. Flanagan also announced last month that the school district plans to sue Monsanto, the agrochemical company that manufactured PCBs until 1979. The school district has said any money recouped in a lawsuit would help pay for the new building and decrease the burden on taxpayers.
He also said, "We're all very aware that our work is not done."
Derek Brouwer and Rachel Hellman contributed reporting.