December 2, 2020

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education gives you strength

Burlington school officials scramble to find classroom space after PCB contamination

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BURLINGTON, Vt. – Nearly 1,000 high school students are still without a building to learn...

BURLINGTON, Vt. – Nearly 1,000 high school students are still without a building to learn in as the Burlington School District scrambles to find class space.

Burlington High School was closed last month due to PCB contamination. Consultants and experts with an understanding of PCBs have been on site all week trying to figure out how to bring levels down enough for students to return, but it’s still unclear how long that process will take.

“If they can identify materials to remove that reduce the PCBs in the air, we will better understand what we need to do more of,” said Superintendent Thomas Flanagan. “It’s really just a fact finding process of understanding where the PCBs are and what we need to remove to lower them.”

While that process remains the focus for Flanagan and other district officials, they’re simultaneously on the hunt for classroom space in Burlington. That gets complicated when you factor in 970 students.

“It’s not a quick fix, but we do have local partners, the mayor and other community leaders helping us and supporting us to find space,” Flanagan said. “I think there’s some good options out there, it’s going to take time and money to get into those spaces, to outift them so that they can house safely.”

There has been some progress for students enrolled at the Burlington Technical Center, which is located in an area of the high school with high levels of PBC contamination. Jason Gingold, director of the Burlington Technical Center, said six of its twelve programs will begin meeting in person again next week at locations throughout Burlington.

“Human services and preschool, advanced manufacturing and pre-tech design, criminal justice, aviation, introduction to health sciences, and then at the end of the week, our culinary arts program,” Gingold said. “Our teachers, who are so dedicated, have spent a lot of time working with students remotely to ensure that hands-on learning is continuing even while we’re remote.”

Throughout the PCB situation, there have been calls for more state support as the district stares down a $70 million renovation of the high school amid the uncertainty of COVID-19 and the shortcomings of the current building.

“We don’t have the funding to really do the types of construction projects that we need to to make sure we have buildings that are preparing our students for 21st century jobs,” Flanagan said. “This is a critical time, and I hope this is an opportunity for us to make a change there and to think about our funding formula and make it more equitable.”

At a town hall meeting on Tuesday, Flanagan suggested the relocation could go beyond the fall and spring of this school year. It is possible students may learn in another building for two years, when high school renovations are expected to be complete.

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