Burlington School District in talks with Beta to host trade programs, cutting costs for new high school

Beta Technologies is constructing new manufacturing facilities at the Burlington International Airport in South Burlington. Now, school district officials say they're working with Beta to potentially move some technical programs to the new facilities. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

In a bid to lower the price tag of Burlington’s new high school, district officials say they’re working with Beta Technologies to potentially move some technical programs to the electric aircraft maker’s planned South Burlington campus.

Under the proposal, some Burlington Technical Center programs would be located at a Beta manufacturing facility on their 40-acre campus off U.S. Route 2, according to a June 14 memo from Superintendent Tom Flanagan.

The move would lower costs for the new high school and technical center from $210 million to $190 million, officials estimate. The $190 million figure includes about $29 million needed to clean up cancer-causing chemicals that spurred the school district to close the old campus in 2020.

Officials hope to open the new building by fall 2025. In the meantime, Burlington High School has been temporarily relocated to a former department store downtown. 

Both Flanagan and Beta said the aviation proposal — which would move programs that need to be taught in spaces with high ceilings, including all aviation-related ones — has the potential to be a win-win.

“Beta told me they are very excited about this as building their workforce is a core need of theirs for the future and this could be a key strategy to helping this happen,” Flanagan wrote in the memo. 

“We are exploring ways to partner with (Burlington Technical Center) to build collaborative programs that can catalyze education and workforce development opportunities in aviation and advanced manufacturing more broadly,” Beta spokesperson Jake Goldman told VTDigger in a statement.

City leaders and residents have been vocal about wanting to build a state-of-the-art school, but they also say they’re concerned about racking up massive costs at taxpayers’ expense. 

On top of that, leaders are keeping an eye on the city and school district’s combined debt ceiling. Mayor Miro Weinberger has floated a $150 million limit for the project’s borrowing costs, but that number is still in flux, Weinberger spokesperson Dan McLean told VTDigger earlier this month.

Flanagan also has identified $25 million in funding for the project from sources besides a new bond, including federal coronavirus relief dollars, remaining cash from a $19 million bond voters approved in 2017 and surpluses from future budgets. 

But even with the $25 million and a $150 million bond — a measure city voters would have to approve in November — there still would be a $35 million shortfall in funding for the project, Flanagan said. 

The plan with Beta would reduce the funding gap to $15 million — which officials plan to fill through private and public fundraising. 

The district recently penned a $20,000 contract with a consulting firm to help them track down money for the project, and has joined with a local nonprofit, the Burlington Students Foundation, to secure grants for the new building. 

There also is the possibility that the state and federal governments help finance the project, particularly the remediation of PCBs, according to Russ Elek, a school district spokesperson.  

If the state pitched in, it “would be more consistent with past practice, as all technical centers, including (Burlington Technical Center), received state construction aid when first built,” Elek said in an email. 

In his memo, Flanagan did not rule out the possibility of bumping the new bond up from its current $150 million estimate.

“After meeting Mayor Weinberger on June 10, I believe he prefers $150 (million) but is open to going beyond this number,” the superintendent wrote. “It is clear that if we move beyond $150 (million), the Mayor would like to see us continue our commitment to raising funds to support the project.” 

McLean declined to give VTDigger an update Monday on where the mayor stands regarding the bond, noting that city offices are closed in observation of Juneteenth.

The Burlington School Board is set to vote on nixing the high-ceiling programs from the district’s chosen design for a new school at their Wednesday meeting.

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Jack Lyons

About Jack

Burlington reporter Jack Lyons is a 2021 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. He majored in theology with a minor in journalism, ethics and democracy. Jack previously interned at the Boston Globe, the Berkshire Eagle and WDEV radio in Waterbury. He also freelanced for VTDigger while studying remotely during the pandemic in 2020.

Email: [email protected]

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