The permit march for the long-awaited 180 Market Street project is on.

The city’s pursuit for permits necessary to build a new city hall, library and senior center can finally begin after the South Burlington School Board approved an agreement with the town last Thursday. And that project is just the start of a bustling City Center and other major projects, including a possible indoor rec center and new school.

“I’m thrilled,” City Council Chair Helen Riehle said. “I look forward to breaking ground.”

After months of back-and-forth on stormwater management designs and safety concerns the city and school resolved issues surrounding a 0.7-acre easement the school will give to the city. The agreements clarifies safety, access and stormwater issues, School Board Chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald said.  

The school board also resolved some safety concerns with a proposed through street near Rick Marcotte Central School, and authorized superintendent David Young to sign off on three permit applications and a site plan within the 0.7-acre area the district will give the city.

“This has been a unique, complicated and somewhat challenging process for all of us at times,” said Deputy Town Manager Tom Hubbard. “But I think our mutual leadership and our representation calls us to be collaborative and to compromise … and to provide for the best possible outcomes for those who we serve.”

Fitzgerald echoed his sentiments.

“The city has been very responsive to the district’s access, stormwater and safety requirements, that really were generated by the 180 Market Street project,” she said. “We appreciate the current consideration; we’ve got a ton ahead of us, we’ll appreciate the future consideration as well.”

Riehle said she was glad to see the process eventually worked.

“We’ve all learned the greater communication there is earlier the better it is,” she told The Other Paper. “Hopefully that will serve us all well in whatever building plans the school has.”

Indeed, 180 Market Street isn’t the only large project on South Burlington’s horizon. On June 6 the school board unanimously voted to start planning for a new joint middle/high school on its existing 500 Dorset Street campus. (See sidebar)

“The vote resulted from a multi-year process that studied the physical condition of the schools and their ability to support the current and future educational needs of South Burlington’s students,” a letter from Superintendent David Young reads.

Aging infrastructure such as boiler plants, fire alarms and HVAC systems, overcrowded high school classrooms and changing teaching methods were discussed as catalysts for the decision during an April forum. Eight conceptual designs for updates to the middle school and high school, crafted by Dore and Whittier Architects, were also discussed.

A new, joint middle/high school, introduced during the forum as “option eight,” entails construction of an entirely new building with two wings, one for grades 6-8 and one for grades 9-12. The building could share some spaces like a boiler plant for efficiencies — though those details will need to be fleshed out. It could also include features like flexible learning spaces to align with modern teaching practices. 

The cost estimate attached to option eight ranged from $171-173 million, but architects and school officials noted the estimates were very preliminary.

“The cost estimates that came out with the options previously were really for comparison purposes,” board member Bridget Burkhardt said. “The idea right now is to develop more detailed designs that will again go out to a cost estimator.”  

They expect to get a firmer cost estimate in mid-September. School officials have been working with high school and middle school administrators and teachers to prioritize needs in those spaces. They intend to hold meetings for district parents with students from kindergarten to alumni to learn more about what families perceive as needs. Burkhardt added the school will have broader community forums in the future. 

New rec center

Freeman French Freeman Architects are crafting a schematic plan for a new indoor recreation space, drawing on public input and drilling down on a cost estimate. 

Should it go through, a capital project of this size generally exceeds the annual budget and voters will need to approve it at the ballot box, according to Project Director Ilona Blanchard.

Based on loose estimates between the three projects, taxpayers could be looking at over $200 million in debt. But according to Riehle, the school and city are working together to figure out what South Burlington can afford. There’s potential, she said, for the parties to find ways to share functions; for example, one indoor track between the new school and recreation center instead of two. Of course, she added, modern-day safety concerns limit public access to the school.

“We’re continuing to work together on that measure,” she said. “It’s not a race to see who gets done first. We are working well together and are cognizant of figuring out a final plan.”

Those conversations are in early stages, according to Fitzgerald. The school must first address how the building will meet curriculum needs before examining community functions. But, she said, recreation and performing arts could be potential areas to examine shared use with the city. 

“There may be some opportunities to overlap,” she said. 

Other city developments

Several commercial ventures are also in the works at City Center. Contractors Black Bay Ventures and the Braverman Co. are building new developments along Market and Garden streets.

Black Bay Ventures is building 12 apartment units located on the Hinesburg Road side of Market Street. The new apartments will include two affordable housing units. Work on that project will likely wrap up in August, according to owner David Shenk. The units are currently available for rent and are filling quickly, he said. 

The Champlain Housing Trust is working with the Braverman Co., in the construction of a $16 million apartment complex that the trust will purchase and rent as affordable housing units this November. The apartments are funded by several sources, including $100,000 from a South Burlington Affordable Housing Trust Fund, according to the Champlain Housing’s Director of Community Relations Chris Donnelly. 

In addition to the affordable housing trust fund, South Burlington has created policies requiring a certain percentage of residencies in City Center be affordable. 

“It signals that the city has made affordable housing a priority,” Donnelly said. Affordable housing is currently in high demand. Champlain Housing Trust receives over 200 applications per month for affordable rental units. 

“It’s a great location,” Donnelly said. “It’s going to be a great new neighborhood right next to the school and the new library.”

 

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