School Board discusses new state PCB action levels


Phoebe Spence, Staff Writer

On December 7, the Burlington School Board met to discuss the effect of the Vermont Department of Health’s (VTDOH) new polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) “action levels” on their planned construction project. 

The school board previously voted to end their planned remodeling project in favor of constructing an entirely new school in May due to PCB testing that revealed levels above the VTDOH’s former 15 nanograms per cubic meter standard. The new criterion raises this safety threshold to 100 ng/m3, which is still below the Environmental Protection Agency’s guideline of 500 ng/m3. The move comes after the Vermont Legislature passed a law in July requiring all school’s to undergo air quality testing. 

“All of a sudden, there’s not a revised guidance on the screening level, there’s a new level called an ‘action level,’” Commissioner Mike Fisher (Ward 5) said. “That’s not a coincidence. Anybody, I think, can connect those dots.” 

Though some classrooms at the old BHS fall below the new 100 ng/m3 limit, 30% of the tested classrooms are still at or above this level. As a result, Superintendent Tom Flanagan proposed moving forward with the current plan to build the new school at 52 Institute Road North.

“I understand that it’s a harder decision now after the new action levels,” Superintendent Tom Flanagan said. “I think that it’s important that, until we were to make a decision to stop the plan to build a new building, that we keep moving with the plan we have in place.”

Public commentator Dave Marr called for a timely construction in order to get BHS students back into regular classrooms as soon as possible. Marr also proposed keeping the less contaminated of the BHS campus’ 5 buildings in order to reduce carbon emissions and save money. The current plan involves completely demolishing the old campus. 

“There’s no reason why [A building] can’t be used, ” Marr said. “It would be a shame to tear [it] down.” 

Flanagan expressed concerns that trying to save parts of the old buildings will slow the process down. 

“One of my biggest concerns has been hurdles like the one we are facing now, [which] get in the way and delay the inevitable need for a new school building,” Flanagan said. 

Efficient construction is a top priority for students and community members alike. 

“Many people in the community, and a lot of students, are really anxious to have a building that isn’t in a Macy’s,” Student Representative Julia Hondal ‘23 said. 

A bond will be set on the November 2022 ballot to allow voters to approve funds for the construction project. And the school board is set to meet with architects next week to start the design process for the new building. Flanagan estimated that, if the district decides to move forward with the current plan, construction is expected to be completed in August of 2025. 

The Board will continue discussing construction plans for the new high school at their next meeting on December 14.