Plans for a new middle/high school and athletic complex are inching ever closer to becoming ballot-ready, following an updated $209,588,828 project cost estimate, an estimated tax impact and a proposed payment schedule discussed during the Jan. 8 school board meeting.

If approved by voters this March, the initial debt would be taken out in 2020 with the final payment on debt in 2053. However, school officials and architects note all figures are estimates made with current assumptions.  

During the South Burlington School Board’s regular meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 9, financial advisor Adam Krei of Hilltop Advisors, Lee Dore of Dore & Whittier Architects and Gary Marckres district director of operations and financial management, presented an update on the potential cost and tax impact of the district’s new middle/high school and athletic complex. 

For the owner of a $350,000 home – without income sensitivity – the tax impact of the school complex would be an average of $1,500.91 per year over the next 32 years.  

The proposed payment schedule would begin with a $10 million, 2.5% interest, bond anticipation note with a one-year maturity, according to Krei. That bond would help cover initial designs and engineering work, he said. It would be repaid with the first project bond, according to board member Bridget Burkhardt.  

It is estimated that bond would be issued in 2021 and would total $67 million, with a 3.5% interest rate and 30-year maturity.  

In 2022, a $90 million bond would be issued with a 4.25% interest rate and 30-year maturity.  

A final bond would be issued in 2023 and would total about $52.6 million with a 5% interest rate and 30-year maturity.  

Based on current estimates, the total project cost over the life of its debt service would be about $345.667 million in principal and interest, Krei said.  

But the current figures are the financial advisor’s best guess based on what he believes interest rates will look like in the coming years and what the school’s bond rating could be, Burkhardt said.  

“The campus is breathtaking,” Board Chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald said of the 3D designs. “And the numbers are breathtaking.” 

The school board will continue discussing language for the new middle/high school ballot item during its Jan. 15 meeting. Final proposals must be prepared by Jan. 22, to share with the city during a steering committee meeting.  

The building proposal 

Master planning and visioning work to review South Burlington School District’s aging school buildings began in 2014. In 2017, architectural firm Dore and Whittier prioritized middle and high school needs, where buildings are pushing student capacity levels, have aging HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems, accessibility issues for handicapped students and a lack of natural light in the middle school, among other problems.  

The most current iteration of the joint middle/high school building and athletic complex, provided on Jan. 8, accommodates a growing number of students – up to 1,050 in the high school and 640 in the middle school – and is conducive to modern teaching methods with shared learning spaces and wings organized by class “teams” in the middle school and academic subject in the high school.  

The proposal includes a 750-seat performing arts theater, and an athletic complex with a 200-meter indoor track and multi-use courts. It splits a kitchen and mechanical room between the two schools while retaining separate middle and high school cafeteria spaces. Both the middle and high schools, as well as the athletic complex have their own entrances, with the opportunity to close accessibility off between each space.   

During the Jan. 8 presentation, Dore outlined potential construction efficiencies that could be made to help with the budget. Among those proposals were changes to the building’s square footage, changes to energy use, changes to some building cladding materials and interior finishes. Decisions on whether those efficiencies would be necessary would be made later in the process.  

“I'm encouraged because Dore Whittier have a history of being really good about managing budgets and coming in on budget,” Burkhardt said.  

Dore also discussed the carbon footprint of a new building versus renovations to the existing middle and high schools.  

Board members and Superintendent David Young emphasized that the district is not able to entirely forgo repairs to the middle/high schools.  

“We’re not in a do-nothing situation,” Young said. He added, whether or not this project is approved by voters, something will have to be done to address maintenance and other needs in the district’s middle and high schools. A loose cost estimate in April 2019 placed repairs at about $55 million for the middle and high schools. However, this cost was not fleshed out like that of the new build, and it does not accommodate growing enrollment at the schools or changes to the learning spaces, Burkhardt said. Likewise, it would be disruptive to students as they would have to attend class in trailers while the repairs to the schools were being made, Burkhardt said. 

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