SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. – South Burlington voters will head to the polls March 3 to answer a $209 million question: Should a new school be built to replace the district’s aging middle and high schools?
School district officials believe Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School and South Burlington High School on Dorset Street need replacing, and drop-in tours at both schools have given residents an opportunity to see for themselves.
“I think there’s been a fair amount of activity around wanting to understand,” said Superintendent David Young. “A lot of people have been surprised, even though we’ve taken care of the buildings, the overall magnitude of the need.”
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 likely see 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 District mentions factors that could lower the liability – Grand List growth for the State, for example. The long term financial ramifications of the project, however, have some voters concerned.
“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.”
The proposed school’s forward-thinking design – plenty of collaborative spaces and modern infrastructure – could be an asset to the community for decades. City Council Chair Helen Riehle wondered whether that same opportunity will be available for the city’s elementary schools.
“This is a huge ask, but then in five to ten years, you might need some additional large figures,” Riehle said.
Superintendent Young said his hope is that the State will address issues in public education and provide more resources by the time an elementary school overhaul would be needed. The last major renovations came in 1995.
On March 2, the eve of Town Meeting Day, a final public hearing for the project will be held at Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School.