The school board met for a lengthy discussion on master planning and visioning and the future of the middle and high school campus, which could include wellness and indoor track and field facilities.

The board voted unanimously at their June 6 meeting to move forward with a construction option that would involve either a brand new middle school and high school or just a new high school building with a renovation to the existing middle school. Either way, the middle school would be getting a new gym space.

Lee Dore and Roberto Fitzgerald of Dore & Whittier gave an in-depth presentation looking at five concepts they are exploring for the project. The concepts vary in scope, showing different location layouts, construction times and phasing, educational impacts and cost estimates. The costs range from $184.6 million to $209.6 million.

Additionally, although it was not included in early conversations, the idea of an indoor track and field facility entered the picture after receiving community feedback. Now being referred to as a Wellness Center, the building would include a competition 200-meter indoor running track, movement studios, locker rooms, weight room, gym courts and more, and would be an opportunity for the school to host events as well as rent out the space to outdoor groups.

South Burlington High School Principal Patrick Burke also sees a chance for students to become more physically active, perhaps using free periods to go to the Wellness Center to get in a workout. He also notes the popularity of indoor track, noting that the sport has the highest percentage of student body participation. Currently, indoor track athletes run through the hallways as part of their training, not an ideal situation.

Concept 1 involves all new construction for the middle school, high school and Wellness Center, but due to the location sites of the buildings, the building phase would last over five years as students move around over several phases. Meanwhile, Concept 5 offers the shortest construction period at three years, eight months, because all three new buildings would be situated at the rear of the property. There would be no disruption to students’ education since they would remain in the current schools while new construction goes up behind them. This plan would mean rebuilding the outdoor track, which would be situated close to Dorset Street along with other fields and courts. Total cost would be approximately $209.6 million.

Concept 2 offers the brand new Wellness Center and high school building, but would mean only infrastructure updates to the existing middle school. There would, however, be a small addition to the middle school in order to house much-needed physical education space. The existing outdoor track would have to be replaced in this layout. Back-and-forth phasing would result in a four-year, five-month construction duration with an estimated price tag of $201.9 million. 

Concept 3 is similar to Concept 2, minus the Wellness Center, which would mean that the outdoor track stays in place. The cost for Concept 3 is $184.6 million, the least expensive option, with a duration of four years, three months.

Concept 4 would comply with the city’s desire to create a more urban streetscape by placing all the buildings at the front of the property right along Dorset Street. The plan includes all new construction, including the Wellness Center, and keeps the existing outdoor track in place. While both schools would have their own dining spaces, they would share a main kitchen area, as well as a boiler room. This concept has the longest duration at five years, 10 months, due to having to build over all of the existing buildings. Estimated cost is $208 million.

Although the architects and the board are considering the city zoning guideline of putting buildings close to the street, they also feel they have to think about the safety of the students first.

“From a school designer’s perspective, we typically use principles that are called crime prevention through environmental design,” Dore said. “You want long sightlines coming into a building so that school staff and administrators have more time to react to who’s coming into the site, sequencing of entry and keeping stuff right off the street from where people drive by.”

Board member Bridget Burkhardt supported Concept 5.

“Concept 5 has everything in it that we would want for the educational aspects of the project, for student wellness and it’s the best location for the buildings in terms of safety and construction timing,” she said.

Various community members attended the meeting to voice their concerns over increased taxes if the bond passes. Some expressed excitement over the project, while others felt it was too expensive and unnecessary. Almost everyone agreed, however, that the Wellness Center is a fantastic idea.

Sarah Dopp of South Burlington isn’t convinced, but she is open to hearing more.

“They really need to show us compelling arguments why renovations won’t work,” Dopp told The Other Paper.

Burkhardt plans on doing just that over the next six months as Town Meeting Day approaches. 

“Even with the tough questions, I’m delighted that people are paying attention and I want the community to really start talking about this,” Burkhardt said.

The board has gathered feedback from parents on the current concepts and hopes to make a decision on which plan they want. The board will then vote on a building plan at its next regular meeting on Sep. 4 at 7 p.m. at the Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School Library.

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