Over the years, with the telltale whoosh of an F-16 taking off from the Burlington International Airport, teachers at Chamberlin School were known to raise their index finger in what’s known as the “Chamberlin Pause.” Teaching in the footprint of an airport has its quirks, but under the F-35 fighter jets, which some say are four times louder than the F-16s, the school may need a bit more than a pause. That’s why representatives from the airport and school are working on obtaining grant funds for air conditioners to allow for closed windows and, consequently, reduced noise – even in warmer weather. 

In July of 2018, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funded a grant that allowed the airport and school district to perform an acoustical test in the Chamberlin School in August of that same year. The test determined that the building’s interior noise level – with windows shut – was below the 45-decibel federal threshold for insulation, according to Deputy Director of Aviation Administration Nic Longo. However, since windows must be closed to reach that noise level, the school is eligible for positive ventilation – air conditioning – to keep noise levels down by allowing windows to remain shut even in hot weather.

With the acoustical test complete and eligibility verified, airport officials can apply for funds to design, purchase, permit and install air conditioning units in the school. They aim to apply for grant money by May 1, 2020, with the potential to receive funds by late summer 2020. The airport would then wait until early summer 2021 – when students are on summer vacation – to install the air conditioning units. 

“There are a lot of logistics to work out though,” Longo said. “The biggest one being – what does the school district actually want on that property?”

The school would be responsible for maintaining the air conditioning units and paying utilities. Additionally, it would have to cover a 10% match as the FAA only covers 90% of project costs.  According to Longo, the airport can’t foot the bill for the match.

“The airport itself, we cannot afford that local match,” he said. “There [are] no opportunities from the city of Burlington or the Burlington airport.”

But Longo said the school, airport and city of South Burlington may discuss possibilities such as using money from South Burlington’s local option tax on jet fuel to help cover the match. That local option tax must be used for aviation-related projects, he said. 

City manager Kevin Dorn, said it’s possible that funds from that local tax could help with the school’s project match. But there are other projects that might need those funds, including the local match for sound insulation of affected homes and road repairs in front of the airport, Dorn said. Ultimately, the city council will decide which projects the local option tax would aid – should it be needed as a funding source. The local option tax on jet fuel fund currently contains $62,000 and is estimated to reach an annual total of $70-80k, Dorn said. The city and school haven’t had extensive conversations about Chamberlin’s mitigation project yet because the match is “kind of up in the air,” he said.  South Burlington maintains that it should not be responsible for the 10% match on the projects. 

“Our view continues to be that the local match should be no different than the prior match,” Dorn said, adding that in the past, South Burlington did not pay the match associated with FAA noise mitigation projects. 

Dorn hopes to know who will cover the match by the end of the year. The city is currently working on its budget and needs that information to inform its plans. 

The Noise Compatibility Plan is expected to be approved by the Burlington City Council this month and then sent to the FAA for its approval.

“The airport has been very, very responsive in the development of the Noise Compatibility Plan to the advice and requests of the South Burlington City Council,” Dorn said. He added the city thinks the plan aligns with requests made by the council and administration to prioritize noise mitigation through insulation and purchase assurance programs rather than razing houses. 

District Superintendent David Young also has concerns about the 10% local match. 

“It’s federal dollars, and so I don’t really feel like it’s appropriate for South Burlington School District to have to foot that bill,” he said.

But Young added that the school has a good relationship with the airport and the Guard. He said that airport Director of Aviation Gene Richards, Longo and the school will work together on a solution.

“We’ll figure it out,” Young said.

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