The School and Community Master Planning Task Force, charged with evaluating growing pressures on school and city facilities and infrastructure over the past several years, has been sifting through reams of information to help inform the recommendation they will ultimately bring to the community on how best to move forward with school configuration. The group has been evaluating civic facility needs versus current resources, examining city demographics, legislative initiatives, and school enrollment trends, as well as the current configuration of the district’s schools, including factors such as location and consolidation.
January 8, 2015 marked the group’s sixth meeting. Chair Art Klugo kicked things off by giving an overview of the January 5, 2015, meeting with demographer Jerome McKibben. Klugo said that many members of the task force went into the meeting skeptical of some of McKibben’s figures, but emerged with a clearer sense of where the city’s population is heading. McKibben presented a forecast that considered migration, birth rate, and mortality. What he discovered is that the population of school age children is declining and the population is getting older; thus creating the need for more senior housing. This is also a nationwide trend.
Director of Planning and Zoning Paul Conner noted that re-sale of homes is also important. If a family stays in their home for thirty years after their children graduate, then that home is not available for a young family, further influencing the demographic age shift. McKibben revised figures for the mortality rate, finding that a correction was necessary to his report. The mortality rate is lower than he stated initially and instead of a decline in population, it now reflects a stable or slight increase in population, but, unfortunately, that does little to boost school enrollment.
Other interesting facts shared by McKibben are that one in six home sales is a newly constructed house, South Burlington households had 2.4 people in 2000, and in 2010, that number had dropped to 2.19. If that number reaches 2.1, it means the city would be at zero population growth or below.
McKibben identified four priorities for the city: the need for more affordable housing, creating a young person’s lending program, supporting the elderly in a way that allows them to be part of the community, and the importance of maintaining schools. McKibben said there are only two reasons to close a school, because there are not enough students or because the buildings have become too expensive to operate.
Klugo asked the group if they were comfortable with the information they had received from the demographer. Each task force member voiced his or her opinion on the demographer’s report and the majority agreed that they accepted the facts as presented.
City Goals and Vision
City Manager Kevin Dorn, Project Manager Ilona Blanchard, and Conner were present to give committee members an overview of where the city is going, particularly with regard to City Center planning. Dorn was careful to point out that during this process he and Superintendent David Young have been cognizant of not taking a position of advocating for their respective visions. “This is a citizen committee, the community will decide what happens,” Dorn said.
Conner began the presentation by citing the fact that while South Burlington has a solid population of 18,000 residents, another 10,000 people travel in daily, for jobs at the University of Vermont Medical Center, Symquest, Dynapower and others. Conner noted that South Burlington has great attributes such as excellent schools and ample recreation opportunities, but demographics continue to be an issue.
Dorn said having a stable population in South Burlington is important for numerous reasons. “If the population is declining, so is economic vitality. It will become more difficult to attract businesses. We need to change this equation and not accept the inevitable,” Dorn said.
Dorn also noted that in some Canadian provinces they are much more aggressive about providing incentives for people to have children. While he didn’t suggest South Burlington take that route, he did say that the city needs to compete for people, for employers and for non-profits. “We need a young, vibrant population for a lot of reasons. City Center is the opportunity to do that. We already have a reasonably vibrant technology park...we see City Center as a real opportunity to bring together the arts and social engagement,” Dorn added.
Conner showed the video simulation of the development of City Center (which is viewable on the city website). He walked the group through it to give them an idea of what the city downtown could look like, including 500-600 residential units in the full build out. Dorn explained that the city does not own anything except Market Street and Central School in the TIF district, which is why partnerships with the private sector will be crucial to achieving the vision of City Center. Dorn added that the 12 acres of land on the Central School site could do a lot for a potential downtown.
Next, Project Director Ilona Blanchard, who is at the forefront of all things City Center, explained to the task force how the TIF works and noted that parking, roads, the streetscape for Williston Road, and the pedestrian/bicycle bridge over I89 would ultimately be paid for by TIF revenue, which is projected to be $65-75 million dollars. The need of affordable housing at a variety of income levels was noted; the city needs to build a desirable product where people would want to move. This project “would just give people more choices of how they want to “be” in Vermont,” Blanchard said.
Task force member Bruce Chattman said, “This may help the city a lot, but it increases the tax burden to residents. We still need to have a lot more discussion before we come to the end of the road.”
Klugo surmised, “We can’t collect data forever. At the next meeting, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and do a work session.”
The next two task force meetings, which are open to the public, are January 21 from 5-9 p.m. and January 29 from 5-9 p.m. at City Hall.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent