Burlington High School won’t re-open until at least next fall

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In mid-September, Burlington School District superintendent Tom Flanagan wrote that most of the campus of Burlington High School would be closed until at least January. The best-case scenario is now next September at a minimum, and the closure may stretch even longer.

It has nothing to do with the pandemic. The campus is contaminated with PCBs, synthetic compounds that are now illegal in the U.S. but were widely used until 1978 in building materials like caulk, insulation and fluorescent light fixtures. The full extent of the contamination in the air and the concrete at BHS still isn’t clear yet.

“That’s the work that we’re doing now, and the testing protocol that we have in place gets us back information by February, and then remediation starts from that point,” Flanagan told the Burlington School Board Thursday night.

The board voted to allow Flanagan to start negotiations on an alternative site for in-person learning. The options appear to be to move students and staff into either the former Macy’s building downtown or modular trailers on the BHS baseball field. The field would need about $5.6 million in site work for fire alarms, sprinkler systems and more bathrooms.

“Though there are bathrooms at the athletic fields, that’s just a two-inch water line and just a four-inch sewer line,” school district director of property services Marty Spaulding said. “That’s not enough to support a hundred classrooms.”

The alternative site could be needed four days a week, beginning next semester, for two to four years. No matter how the site is planned out, Burlington School Board chair Clare Wool acknowledged that the district can’t currently afford it.

“And so we will enter into these conversations with your approval and we would be reporting back with much clearer, definitive financial cost sheets,” she said.

“We don’t have a choice, you know? Unless we are willing to agree to two years of fully remote instruction, then this is what we have to do,” school board member Martine Gulick said.

Meanwhile, BHS students will resume in-person learning by Thanksgiving at Edmunds Elementary and Middle Schools. They’ll be there each Wednesday, and the first day could be as soon as November 18th; a firm date has not been set yet.

Administrators have also picked out additional space in the L.L. Bean building at Church Street and Cherry Street “to work with some of our more vulnerable students in a space that will allow them to receive in-person connection, tutoring and support services,” Burlington High School principal Noel Green said. “We are looking to move into that space next week.” The district is calling that space the BHS Community Center.

Wool also said the district has asked state officials for help covering the cost of the alternative site, wherever it ends up being located.

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