Home Environmental education Burlington voters overwhelmingly approve $165 million bond for new high school

Burlington voters overwhelmingly approve $165 million bond for new high school

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According to unofficial results from seven of the city’s eight wards, 72% of voters approved a ballot measure to borrow for the construction of a new high school. The old building was closed after PCB contamination was discovered. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Updated at 9:47 p.m.

Burlington voters on Tuesday approved a $165 million bond measure by a wide margin, allowing construction to begin on a new high school.
According to preliminary results from the city’s eight wards, 76% of voters backed the ballot measure.

The Burlington School District touted the bond vote as essential to building a permanent home for Burlington High School on Institute Road.

But with tax implications showing that homeowners and residents will repay borrowed money until 2046, some townspeople balked at the tax burden.

The $165 million bond will pay for the majority of the new high school project, the total cost of which is estimated to be around $190 million. A breakdown of estimated project costs shared by the school district indicated $134 million in construction expenses, $34 million in other project costs, and $21 million for environmental remediation.

At a South End polling station on Tuesday, Andrew Jope, 53, said now was not the ideal time to build a new high school, given the high construction costs. Even so, Jope, who works in education, voted for the bond. The students have “done a great job of adapting to the situation and they are making the most of it. But, you know, we need a permanent high school,” he said. “I share the concerns about the cost, but there’s just no getting around it. We have to build it.

Voters previously approved a $70 million bond to renovate the high school building in 2018. Environmental testing conducted during the planning process for this project revealed levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, a hazardous chemical, that exceeded EPA limits.

School officials closed the school in 2020 and the district either returned or did not end up borrowing most of the 2018 obligation as a result. Since then, students have been taking classes in the vacant old Macy’s building downtown.

The old department store’s lease is set to expire in 2025, a fact district officials used to urge voters to embrace the bond. However, the building’s owner, developer Don Sinex, said he would “consider” an extension if the school was not built and students had nowhere to go.

The tax implications shared by the school district assume that it will borrow the full amount of the deposit. But in pre-vote talks, district officials sought to draw attention to their efforts to reduce the amount borrowed.

School board president Clare Wool said the district has pursued 17 different funding options, from state and federal grants to private philanthropy, she said.

“Every time we’re successful in raising funds, it means we reduce the burden this project places on taxpayers,” Wool said at a press conference.

At that Oct. 13 conference, held in front of the empty high school, officials announced that the district planned to sue Monsanto for damages caused by PCB contamination.

Laine at the time suggested that a successful lawsuit could help pay off the debt from building a new school.

“Any money recovered from litigation would be used to repay the bond in future years and reduce the amount taxpayers would be required to pay on the debt,” Wool said.
Before the district announced the lawsuit, two former high school educators filed their own lawsuit against Monsanto over the contaminated building.

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