From elevator malfunctions to water-damaged ceilings, 53 year-old Burlington High School (BHS) has clear building problems that the community has to address.
In May of 2017, Superintendent Yaw Obeng called for community volunteers to steer a committee to redesign the high school. Their task is to take the next steps toward a redesign of the high school that would better meet the physical needs of all students and would engender a more more positive learning environment. The BHS ReEnvisioning Steering Committee is chaired by Kate Stein, a BHS parent and accessibility advocate. Martine Gulik, Jim Holway, and Signe Daley, all Burlington parents, also stepped up do this hard work.
The committee is struggling to get students to join the renovation conversation.
The first of three student input sessions was held on Wednesday, December 6th.
“These meetings [are] for me to answer questions and to engage in dialogue so that I could get a good feeling of where the students are coming from and what their particular desires are,” Stein said.
However, no students showed up.
Many students said they were unaware of the input session. Although the dates were presented in advisories, in a previous school newsletter sent out on November 22, and at a junior community meeting, they were not initially posted on the school calendar and no announcements were made over the intercom.
“I did not know [the meetings] existed,” Sam Beste, a BHS sophomore, said. “But now that I do I will try to attend them.”
After the community meeting where Stein presented the process and possible solutions to the junior class, she sent out a survey to the Junior class asking for input and questions about the renovation project. Stein received an underwhelming three responses.
“I just feel like it needs to be [publicized] more in the student body,” Abdikadir said. “Posters, announcements, or something. It’s really important for us to know what’s going on at our school.”
Abdikadir cited the recent posters that were hung up about a library input session offered to students about how to make the library an effective space for student work. The posters helped students know what they needed to show up for and when.
Abbey Pasquence, BHS librarian, said that for the library input session, 50 posters were hung up around school and a week’s worth of announcements were made over the intercom advertising it. Halloween treats were also offered to students who showed up, and a festive table in the library sported a spiderweb tablecloth and mountains of cookies. Seven students showed to this meeting.
The dates of the student input meetings for the redesign are now on the school calendar, and Stein has asked for a post to be added to the BHS Facebook page.Stein would like to hang up posters for the meetings as well, but she needs help making and distributing them.
Regardless of their failure to show up for these meetings, students still have a lot to say about the renovation process, especially regarding the committee’s two drastically different options for renovation.
At the community meetings, Stein presented the two plans the committee is currently considering to students: either rebuilding the school altogether, or demolishing only a few buildings and rebuilding around A Building.
The building’s need for repairs alone costs about $27 million. If the building was completely rebuilt, the expenses are budgeted at about $84 million. If the building was to be partially redesigned, the budget is expected to be about $58 million.
“I think that renovating our current building makes more sense than building a whole new building,” Ada Case, a BHS junior who attended the community meeting, said.
“It doesn’t make sense to start over from scratch. We definitely need to rebuild the school, but I don’t think that means demolishing the current building.”
Isabel Vivanco, a BHS sophomore, said that building a brand new school seemes a bit ridiculous.
“I feel like there are a few points rather than a whole building that could be repaired,” Vivanco said, citing the dirty window at at the top of the C-Building stairs.
Vivanco plans on attending future student input meetings so that she can get a better understanding of the renovation project.
“It would be cheaper to just build onto the school, and that would help with taxpayers who are already upset about what they have to pay in taxes,” Meghan Lavoie, a BHS junior, said.
The more expensive the renovations are, the greater the bond that will need to be floated.
Other students think that building a new school would have a better effect on the long term future of BHS.
“I feel a complete redesign is necessary because our school is very old. We could update it but we would just end up having to update it again in 20 years,” Beste said. “If we redesign it from the ground up it could last for much longer.”
Freshman Ayden Flanigan agrees that building an entirely new school is the best option.
“[The] new building benefits from not having to worry about the outdated tiling as well as other outdated technology still used in BHS,” Flanigan said.
Yellowing ceiling tiles haunt many hallways and classrooms in BHS, and have a history of falling and chipping.
“I would prefer this option because of the possibility of using renewable energy to run the school,” Flanigan said.
“I think that there are too many things that need to be fixed,” Amelia Mason, a BHS sophomore, said. She believes that a whole new school could best fix all the building’s challenges, and that the new space should focus on the issue of accessibility.
After spending time on crutches in BHS, Mason realized how challenging accessibility at BHS can be for students on a daily basis. BHS it is not currently compliant with the ADA(Americans with Disabilities Act). Since the BHS accreditation process last Spring, there has been additional pressure to update the school to meet building codes from the New England Assocication of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).
“The elevators were placed so far away that I would rather go up and down the stairs and tolerate pain than walk all the way to the elevators which were often placed in another building,” Mason said. “I cannot imagine what it must be like for students who experience this every single day. It was incredibly frustrating and time-consuming.”
Mason would like to see a brand new school in BHS’s future.
Balkisa Abdikadir, a BHS senior, emphasized the need for gender neutral bathrooms to be included in the renovation project no matter what the building plan is.
“We need one in every building the same way there is a bathroom in every building for everyone else,” Abdikadir said.
Abdikadir plans on attending future input meetings.
The ReEnvisioning Committee will make an official recommendation to the Superintendent in January about which building plan should be put into action. Students have until then to attend input sessions, fill out a survey if it was sent to them, or email Stein (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any input or questions they have about the project.
Vivanco wants students to have as much voice as possible in shaping the school’s future, no matter what plan is chosen.
“It makes sense for us to have a say in the place we visit and inhabit,” Vivanco said. “We are high schoolers, not younger kids who people think need decisions made for them. Students would know more about the things that don’t work very well [and] need repair.”
Other students figure the renovations will not directly affect them, and refrain from participating in the discussion about a future BHS.
“I’m not too worried about it,” Emily L’Ecuyer, a BHS Junior, said. “It’s not going to happen while I’m in school. I’ll be graduated by then.”
Mason also recognizes that the renovations will occur after she’s left BHS.
“I feel somewhat disappointed because these renovations won’t happen until I have already graduated high school,” Mason said. “But I do realize that my voice still matters.”
Mason said she did not know about the first student input session, but plans to attend future meetings.
Another meeting was held this Wednesday, December 13 at 8:00 in B206. The details have been released in the school newsletter, and the date was put on the BHS calendar.
Still, no students showed.