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Demolition of Old Burlington High School in Vermont Began May 22

Thu May 25, 2023 - Northeast Edition
Seven Days & Burlington School District


As the demolition contractor works to dismantle Building A — a job the school district said should be done by the end of June — it will concurrently clean out and remediate Building B, which once housed the library and administrative offices. (Burlington School District photo)
As the demolition contractor works to dismantle Building A — a job the school district said should be done by the end of June — it will concurrently clean out and remediate Building B, which once housed the library and administrative offices. (Burlington School District photo)

When Burlington High School's Institute Road campus opened its doors to students in the fall of 1964, community members hailed it as a beacon of modernity for the state of Vermont

In a Burlington Free Press article at the time, one student described it as a "palace of a building, with its shiny new floors and mazes of corridors."

Just shy of 60 years later, that palace is coming down.

On May 22, EnviroVantage, a demolition contractor from Epping, N.H., began tearing down the first of Burlington High's five buildings.

The work comes in the wake of the Burlington School District's (BSD) discovery in 2020 of PCBs — toxic chemicals that have been shown to cause a variety of health issues — in building materials throughout the school.

Last year, Burlington voters approved a $165 million bond to fund the construction of a new high school, slated to be finished by the end of 2025. In the meantime, Burlington High students have been attending classes in a temporary downtown campus at the site of a former Macy's department store since March 2021.

Dozens of photos and videos shared by BSD on its website since the demolition began document the early stages of the demolition. One shows a gaping hole ripped through the brick façade of Building A — the former site of the school's main office, cafeteria, gymnasium and auditorium — that reveals a tangle of wires and piles of rubble.

According to Seven Days, a Vermont online news source, another image shows a claw excavator dismantling the school's covered entryway, while another shows a blue cannon shooting water droplets into the air to suppress dust and prevent any toxins from spreading.

Prep Work Salvaged Usable Parts of School

In preparation for the razing of the school, BSD had solar panels removed from Burlington High's roof and cleaned out its old classrooms. Some items were salvaged, including the gym bleachers and auditorium seats. The bleachers are slated to be installed in the new high school and the seats will go to Hunt Middle School after being reupholstered. Any of the building's machinery still in good working order is being donated to other Vermont school districts, Seven Days noted May 23.

EnviroVantage also was busy in the lead-up to the demolition, removing asbestos inside the building, creating remediation plans for contaminated building materials, and installing a chain-link fence around the campus.

As the demolition contractor works to dismantle Building A — a job the school district said should be done by the end of June — it will concurrently clean out and remediate Building B, which once housed the library and administrative offices.

BSD expects Baltimore-based Whiting-Turner (with an office in Boston), the project's construction manager, to begin construction this July while EnviroVantage continues demolition, remediation, and material removal. Substantial completion of the project should be done in November 2025, with students and staff slated to move into the new building the following January.

School District Still Looking for More Funding

Seven Days reported that Burlington taxpayers may not be on the hook for the full $165 million bond they overwhelmingly approved in November.

In April, the school district received word that U.S. Sen. Peter Welch, a Vermont Democrat, had nominated a stormwater treatment project being done as part of the high school rebuild for a $1.2 million federal grant.

Though that funding is not a "done deal," according to Burlington School Superintendent Tom Flanagan, he is optimistic it will come through.

Earlier in May, state lawmakers also approved a $16 million appropriation to help Burlington pay for remediation of PCBs at the high school. That money is contingent on the governor's signature on the state budget.

"We're still continuing to pursue every source of funding we can to make sure Burlington taxpayers are not the only ones who have to shoulder the burden of this project," said Russ Elek, a BSD spokesperson.

Next year, he added, the Burlington School District plans to lobby the Vermont legislature to fund a sixth structure at the new high school for its planned regional tech center.

"[The demolition] is obviously a huge step forward for our project," said Flanagan. "I want to thank the citizens of Burlington for supporting this project first and foremost. I also want to thank EnviroVantage, our environmental consultants Fuss & O'Neill, PCI Capital Project Consulting, and our property services team for getting us here today. It has taken an enormous amount of collaboration and partnership to put us in the right position to continue this project."




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