Thursday September 13, 2018
At a joint meeting of the school board and city council on Sept. 5, an agreement for the exchange of rights and interests in real property was unanimously approved by the board and approved in a 3-1 vote by the council with Councilor Tim Barritt dissenting. With the council’s Sept. 4 approval to bring a ballot item for a new city hall/community center/library to the voters in November, this collaboration with the school district was crucial to moving forward with the preferred building design. The council voted 3-1-1 Tuesday night, with one abstention (Barritt voting “nay” and Councilor Tom Chittenden abstaining) to bring the ballot item to the voters.
Barritt said at the joint meeting he would not repeat his rationale from the evening prior, but said that the community center project is “too much money, the wrong location, and there’s not enough space.”
Negotiations have been ongoing around the agreement to exchange a parcel of the Central School property for the school district’s use of the current City Hall building after it is vacated by the city. At a joint special session of the city council and school board on June 4, a draft Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was unanimously agreed upon by both bodies that allowed for the transfer of two pieces of Marcotte Central School property to the city to accommodate the community center (0.75 acres). An easement for the future Garden Street (.1 acres) to increase the turning radius for larger vehicles using the street was also approved. These conveyances are subject to voter approval.
Councilor Meaghan Emery and City Council Chair Helen Riehle lauded the collaboration after the vote was taken. Emery said she voted for putting the community center on the ballot Monday night and felt this vote signified in concrete terms that they (the council and board) were all working toward the betterment of the city.
School district attorney David Rugh enumerated the myriad benefits the agreement provides to both parties. The city will receive the land needed to build the preferred design for a community center, and the school will have an expanded parking lot, stormwater enhancements, and sufficient space to relocate the school district’s administrative offices to a building immediately across from South Burlington High School and Tuttle Middle School.
Burkhardt said she hoped the district and city could continue to collaborate in the future, especially given the gray areas within the agreement that have yet to be resolved, including parking and maintenance. She said the agreement, “requires a leap of faith on behalf of the district since it will be a few years before the school district sees any direct benefit from this.”
Fitzgerald agreed that it is great for the community to see the two entities engaging in these types of conversations. He said he hoped this would continue, particularly in light of the district’s master planning and visioning work which could result in a significant ask of the voters.
McHenry added that he looked at the agreement thoroughly and said that “for the school district there are lots of upsides, but also potential downsides.” For example, he cited the potential for additional classroom space in the future and that City Hall could provide that space as opposed to using modular classrooms. However, questions for McHenry remained around maintenance of facilities.
David Kaufman noted that getting information out to the community around the ballot items is going to take a lot of energy and he hoped the board would be proactive in that effort.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent