South Burlington School District officials are well aware that they need to ease overcrowding in the elementary grades. It’s why Orchard School and Rick Marcotte Central School each have four modular classroom trailers outside them.

Additional trailers, and another expensive project the district has had on its radar for quite some time, will both be on the ballot on Town Meeting Day in March. Both will be part of the same $14,550,000 bond proposal.

If the bond passes, Orchard and Rick Marcotte would each get four more trailers for a total of eight at each school. The trailers are officially called zero-energy modular classrooms, or ZEMs for short.

“This was an unbudgeted expense,” superintendent Violet Nichols said at Wednesday night’s school board meeting. “Initial costs, in a little bit of a different economic climate when the drawings were completed, had costs under $1.5 million.”

The eight new ZEMs are now expected to cost $6,000,000 thanks to factors like increasing labor costs, supply chain problems and trouble obtaining construction materials. Nichols told the board she walked through Rick Marcotte Central School on Monday with a print journalist. They discussed the ZEMs as they looked around.

“As we were looking at a former project room which is now a classroom, we were having a conversation about how facilities are driving our learning in this particular case — which is not how we want it to be,” Nichols said.

The bond would cover another capital project even more expensive than the ZEMs.
Tuttle Middle School needs a new roof, which would cost more than $6,000,000.

“I am a little surprised there wasn’t more discussion about splitting the bond into two votes,” former school board chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald said.

The bond would be repaid for 21 years. Fitzgerald also pointed out that in year two, the amount the district has to re-pay will quadruples from year one.

“That principal and interest payment goes from about $436,000 to 1.7 million,” she said. “And on average, for the next nine years, it’s about 1.5 million.”

Most of the cost of the ZEMs will be covered by impact fees. Those are one-time payments local governments impose on real estate projects to help pay for expanded public services that will be needed because of population growth.

The bond proposal, the school district budget and three school board seats will all be on the ballot in South Burlington on Tuesday, March 7.