South Burlington, VT– A much anticipated project by the South Burlington School Community officially opened on Wednesday. A brand-new, zero-emission space allows Rick Marcotte Central School fifth graders more room to learn in.

There was excitement all around before the school day started as fifth graders attended their first day of learning in Zero Energy Modular classrooms, or ‘ZEMs.’ The buildings have long been in the works for South Burlington’s Central School and the Orchard School, as the project aims to improve its climate impact.

“I was about to cry when I came in,” said Nora Parent out of excitement. She’s a fifth grader at the Central School.

“I’m filled with great pride and joy,” said South Burlington Superintendent Violet Nichols.

Nichols says a boost in enrollment since 2021 has caused overcrowding at the two schools, putting stress on education.

“We’re thrilled to be able to welcome our fifth graders into these buildings, who have been learning in such small spaces in our buildings due to the over enrollment here at Rick Marcotte School and over at Orchard School for quite some time,” Nichols said.

Rick Marcotte Principal Lissa McDonald says the bigger space now allows the fifth graders to learn together, and to create a community.

“We’ve been squashed into our school building for three months now, and our students are now able to spread out, have flexible learning spaces, meet in groups,” McDonald said.

Ground broke in June on the dual school project.

In the past few days, teachers got away with the short amount of time they had to make sure their rooms are learning-ready.

“It was stressful and exciting at the same time,” said fifth grade teacher Kristen Kavanagh.

Nora Parent says she’s excited to study her favorite subject — math — in a big classroom.

“I love it, I think my teacher did a great job,” said Parent.

Kavanagh is looking forward to the rest of the school year. “Even though we were in some crowded spaces in the school for a little bit, it was always temporary, now we have some beautiful spaces for our classes,” she said.

“I really think it’s going to be awesome to have a brand-new classroom,” Parent added.

Nichols says the ZEMs are only the first phase in a larger project. The district will soon focus on updates to its middle and high schools as students move through the grades each year. Nichols adds the school district requested the city develop school zones at every school, improve lighting around its schools, and fund traffic monitors.