Visioning for the Future

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Thursday April 09, 2015

Nearly 200 community members turned out Tuesday, March 31 to discuss plans for the future of the city and its schools. After months of meetings and research, the City/School Master Visioning Task Force was ready to present their work and to receive public opinion.

The task force began meeting in November to examine growing pressures on city and school facilities and infrastructure. They sifted through reams of information, examined city demographics, and evaluated civic facility needs versus current resources, school enrollment trends, and the current configuration of the district’s schools.

The school district reports that the purpose and parameters of the initiative are to increase educational opportunities for students and support a high quality of city life, all in a cost effective manner. The limits of the purview included all of the school facilities and the proposed South Burlington City Center which would centralize City Hall, Parks and Recreation and the South Burlington City Library.

Art Klugo, task force chair, kicked off the evening by recognizing the task force members and all of the consultants who have helped provide pertinent information along the way, including Cope and Associates, McKibben Demographics, Frank Locker Consulting, and Dore and Whittier Architects.

City Manager Kevin Dorn, and Superintendent David Young, co-organizers of the initiative, spoke next. They commented that the city and school share similar desires in their vision for the future of South Burlington - for a vibrant city, housing opportunities, and economic and job opportunities that will allow students who graduate from South Burlington schools to remain in the community to work and raise their own families.

“The most important asset (to a city) are the people who live there,” Dorn said.

Abby Crocker, one of the task force members, reflected on the many considerations that determined the options presented for discussion. Those included demographics, costs, disruption, opportunities and impacts, economic development, strong schools and city centers and natural areas.

The discussion topics were then presented by facilitators at each of twenty tables, as a three stage exercise, with decks of cards providing visuals and guidelines for dialogue.

The first deck of The Big Deal® discussion cards featured considerations such as school vision and aspirations, city vision and aspirations, disruption and change, economic development, cost containment, and open space and natural resources. Each table was asked, as a group, to prioritize these considerations from most to least important. The idea with this deck was to have people “wrestle with something that’s inherently complex,” Paul Dickin from Cope said.

The second deck was designed to get people thinking about school configuration options, which the task force narrowed to five for this meeting. These included: Option 1:everything remaining “as is” with the three elementary schools and current middle and high schools. Option 2: 2 elementary schools (K-2), a new build (3-5), and the current middle and high schools with NEASC recommendations and ADA requirements. Option 3: 2 elementary schools, both new builds, with current middle and high schools with NEASC recommendations and ADA requirements. Option 4: 1 elementary school new build K-5, middle and high school with NEASC recommendations and ADA requirements. Option 5: 1 elementary school (K-4) in existing middle school, a middle school (5-8) in the existing high school, and building a new high school. The cards included details about each option and estimated project costs in a range from $50 to $99 million.


Deck three asked participants to consider alternate uses for any school buildings that could become available as a result of consolidation or sale. Categories of use included mixed housing, health/medical, commercial/retail, and municipal use. People were asked to consider each school individually and think of how that building should be used, if it were no longer a school.

The conversations were lively and difficult to contain to the specified time limits of twenty minutes or so for each deck. As the final moments of the two and a half hour meeting wrapped up, Kate McInnis from Cope gave an update on the concepts and considerations that emerged as the most popular from all twenty groups.

Eighteen groups identified school vision and aspirations as the most important consideration in the first exercise. In response to the suggested school configuration options, 6 tables developed new ideas of their own, with the option of two elementary schools with one new build coming in second, the new high school concept was third.
“The process was amazing,” said Klugo. “Having not been through The Big Deal before, I was interested to see how the discussions would play out. The tables seemed to be engaged, discussions diverse, and apparently the options were flowing.”

What’s next? After results are compiled, they will be posted on the city website. More response will be elicited through a community survey, then the task force will update the concepts with costs attached and community feedback. In late April (current target date), another community meeting will be held to present updates. Finally, the concepts will be adjusted, and a recommendation will be made to the city council and school board.

“It was a success by any measure,” said David Young, Superintendent of Schools, co-organizer of the initiative along with City Manager, Kevin Dorn. “We were really pleased with the turnout and the depth of discussion and creativity that occurred at the individual tables.”

Couldn’t attend the meeting? Catch up on the city website or on RETN and offer your feedback through the community survey which will be available soon at www.surveymonkey.com/s/SouthBurlington

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent