December 23 2019

School Committee Looks to Pivot After State Denies BHS HVAC Request for Eighth Time

By: Rich Hosford

The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) once again denied the Burlington School Department’s request for funds to address issues with the Burlington High School heating and cooling system. 

Superintendent Eric Conti informed the School Committee of the news at last Thursday’s School Committee meeting when the committee was discussing the future needs of Burlington’s school buildings. This is the eighth time the request has been denied and was not a shock to members of the committee. 

“Despite that we all expected it, I'm still very disappointed,” School Committee Chair Martha Simon said. “Burlington High School needs to be renovated so we’ll be spending time talking about it and working on that and figuring out how we’ll manage it.”

Simon said that despite the building being older it does not yet need to be replaced. She estimated that a new high school would cost upwards of $200 million or more. The rough estimate of the renovations is about $75 million. 

The exact cost is something that will require more study. Operations Director Bob Cunha said the district would need to put out a Request for Proposal (RFP) to get the full design specs. In May, Town Meeting approved $100,000 for Design and Engineering of the high school’s HVAC system, funds Cunha said they have not used. 

One additional factor that will influence the approach to get the full study of project specs is that the renovations might extend beyond the HVAC system. Conti said the school needs classroom renovations as well, with a particular need for updated science labs. If the department wants to do all of them at the same time it will need further funds from Town Meeting for a study that includes more than just the HVAC system. 

“We probably need to write a request for a proposal for some design and engineering support,” Conti said. “We need someone who is an expert on that.” 

Cunha said he would do further research and update the committee early in the New Year. As for the MSBA, committee members agreed they should probably change track and submit a request for the yet-to-be-determined elementary school option the district comes up with to address the needs of Fox Hill and Pine Glen. 

“It has been eight years in a row that this project has been denied,” School Committee member Stephen Nelson said. “They will continue to deny it until they change the legislation because the legislation was drafted to favor communities that don’t take good care of their schools and to favor communities that are really facing enrollment problems. I think we need to come up with a ‘plan B’ for the high school and put together a proposal for whatever elementary project we agree on.”


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