SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. – Voters overwhelmingly rejected plans to spend $210 million to build a new middle school and high school in South Burlington on Tuesday.
Final results show that nearly 80% of ballots cast – 6,514 — rejected the measure, with just 1,712 approving. The proposal was aimed at replacing Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School and South Burlington High School on Dorset Street, which officials have long maintained suffer from a host of issues.
According to the district, the schools’ heating, roofing, electrical and plumbing systems are beginning to fail. And there logistical problems, as well: cafeterias, gyms, and the high school auditorium are too small for the student population, which is expected to grow in the coming years.
Long term solutions, however, come with a long term cost. Homeowners would have seen significant annual property tax increases for 32 years. A household earning less than $136,500 annually would be eligible to pay education taxes based on income.
The outcome was a win, however, for South Burlington residents who campaigned against the bond proposal. The “Vote No” campaign raised money on Facebook, created a website and planted hundreds of yard signs.
And a January public hearing, opponents expressed concerns about the financial ramifications of the project.
“The presentation we just received, in terms of hearing all relevant information, I would give a grade of F,” said Gerry Silverstein. “20 years into this bond, low and moderate income individuals are going to be devastated by the cost.”
At the same time, City Council Chair Helen Riehle worried voters would approve such an expensive plan, given the city’s elementary schools could also need renovations in the future.
“This is a huge ask, but then in five to ten years, you might need some additional large figures,” Riehle said.