School Board Narrows List of Potential Sites for Future Campus

DTBHS.+Photo%3A+Sid+Gullickson

DTBHS. Photo: Sid Gullickson

Sid Gullickson, Staff Writer

On September 14, the Burlington School Board unanimously passed a motion to further evaluate 3 of the originally proposed 16 possible sites for the construction of a new high school: Institute Road North, Institute Road South, and the Gateway Block. The board is expected to select one of these sites to be the home of the new high school by their November meeting. 

“We expect there to be very little, if any, community opposition [to the Institute Road site],” said Joe Weith. 

Weith is the Senior Project Manager of White + Burke Real Estate Advisory. The company has been working with the school board since June to determine a new site for the high school.

The main advantages of the Institute Road locations is that the district already owns the site, and it has preexisting parking. The amenities and ownership would reduce cost and speed up the occupancy schedule by decreasing the risk of permit and zoning complications. Being located on the bus line also makes the location more accessible to students.

“[Institute Road is] accessible also to the city and to the lake and to the woods, which I think provides a real strong learning opportunity for our students and opportunities for deeper learning and experiential learning,” Superintendent Tom Flanagan said.

The opportunity for students to learn in the city, we’re finding that that is meaningful. ”

— Superintendent Tom Flanagan

 

The school board also decided to further pursue the Gateway block, a section of land next to Memorial Auditorium on Main St. 

Flanagan gave insight into the advantages of a downtown location.

“The opportunity for students to learn in the city, we’re finding that that is meaningful,” Flanagan said. “And I think it will become more and more meaningful as we experience time together at Downtown BHS.” 

Of the original 16 possible sites, 7 were in the North End. These consisted of the North and South Institute Road locations, Leddy Park, Rockpoint, the Elk’s Property, C.P Smith/Schifilliti Park, and the Urban Reserve that lies between the Waterfront and the New North End.

The downtown and university district sites considered were Macy’s – City Place Property, the Gateway Block, the City Place Property, also known as “the pit”, and Lakeside Ave – Sears Lane.

In addition to identifying several sites themselves, others were suggested to White + Burke by the school board, BSDVT staff members, and the public. The sites were then evaluated by White + Burke with 16 criteria developed by district staff and the school board. The criteria included such things as city and community support, occupancy schedule, room for development, and accessibility to the site for students.

The next highest rated site after both Institute Road locations was Leddy Park. However, despite ranking third due to lower construction costs, flat land, and room for accommodating all amenities, it was ranked lower due to the lack of expected community support. 

“We do expect that there will be some level of community opposition to the idea of converting publicly owned, open space to higher intensity development use,” David White said, President and Founder of White + Burke. 

Despite public support for a downtown location, White explained that White + Burke Real Estate Advisors do not anticipate city support for the City Place property because if the school was to be built on the City Place site or the “pit”, the city would lose the revenue generated from their planned private development. 

 “There has been a good amount of support expressed in the community for a downtown site,” Weith said. “[But], we don’t anticipate any support from the city to see a public institutional building built on the City Place property.”

[The increased cost of building at the City Place site] seems to me is a pit in itself. ”

— Commissioner Stephen Carey (Ward 2)

 

Commissioner Mike Fisher (Ward 5) elaborated further. 

“I’ve heard a number of people say ‘Hey, it’s right there. We’re already there. It’s not being built up. Why can’t we use it?’ he said. “… I want to make sure the public knows that we’ve discussed that as a board that if [City Place] is built as residential and commercial, that’s a huge increase to our tax revenue with the city.”

Building BHS at the City Place site, or “the pit”, would also be incredibly costly due to land acquisition, development costs, and the construction of 325 parking spots. There could also be more permitting challenges, which could set back the project. 

“[The increased cost of building at the City Place site] seems to me is a pit in itself.” Commissioner Stephen Carey (Ward 2) said.

The board’s goal is to decide on a site by their school board meeting on November 16. 

The next School Board meeting is Tuesday, October 5.