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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Burlington High School Could Be Demolished After More Contamination Found

Posted By on Wed, Apr 14, 2021 at 8:20 PM

Warnings at Burlington High School - FILE: COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • Warnings at Burlington High School
A series of tests have revealed extensive chemical contamination on Burlington High School’s campus that could necessitate a complete tear down.

At a school board meeting on Tuesday, superintendent Tom Flanagan said that cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been detected in the buildings’ window caulking, block and brick walls, floor-tile adhesive and concrete foundation — as well as in the air and in the soil under and surrounding the school.

“Unfortunately, at each step of the process, we find more materials with PCBs,” Flanagan told the school board. “I’m growing increasingly uneasy about the extent of PCB contamination.”

He said that remediation of the chemicals would cost an estimated $7 million to $12 million — and even that might not reduce the levels of airborne PCBs to below what the state has deemed safe.

The chemicals were found last year as the district prepared for a voter-approved $70 million project to overhaul the high school and the tech center.

But the district shuttered much of the campus, located off of North Avenue in the city’s New North End, the day before classes were to begin last September after testing showed PCBs in some of the buildings.

Queen City high schoolers learned almost fully remotely until March, when they began attending classes two days a week at a former Macy’s department store downtown. The school district funded a renovation of the building and is operating there under a three-and-a-half-year lease it signed in December.
Once a Macy's, now a school - FILE: CAT CUTILLO ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Cat Cutillo ©️ Seven Days
  • Once a Macy's, now a school
Initially, district leaders thought it would take until late summer to figure out the extent of the PCB contamination and decide how to move forward. But Flanagan said that the latest testing results should spur the board to make a decision as early as next month.

“The purpose of tonight really is to make very clear that there’s a serious problem in this project, and we need to take action sooner rather than later,” he told the 12-member school board on Tuesday.
Board members expressed their concerns about the most recent findings.

“Obviously we’ve been trying to patch a sinking ship, so what is it going to take for you guys to let us know this is actually the Titanic?” said school commissioner Jean Waltz. “It just seems like it’s getting worse.”

Commissioner Jeff Wick flagged the high costs for PCB mitigation and suggested that it was time to “stop the bleed” by abandoning the $70 million renovation and moving forward with a plan to build an entirely new high school.

Unclear is whether a new school would — or could — be built on the current campus, or at a different city location.

“I’m sitting here having an anxiety attack because I’m thinking, Where would we go?” commissioner Martine Gulick said. “Maybe you all have information that I don’t have, but that scares me.”

Tom Peterson, a consultant hired to oversee the $70 million renovation project, suggested it could be problematic to build a new high school on the current site. Even if PCB mitigation can be handled cost-effectively, the Institute Road campus is 57 years old and, with PCBs in the soil and in the air, there would be long-term costs for monitoring the buildings and potentially additional remediation.
Building a new facility at a different location would be “a huge lift,” he said, but “at the end of that, you will have a beautiful new high school.”

Flanagan capped the discussion by addressing the board. “It’s no one’s fault that we’re here,” the superintendent said. “We learned about this problem through doing our due diligence.”

As leaders, he said, the school commissioners are being tasked with making hard decisions.

“There are ways out of this and into a high school that we can be proud of,” said Flanagan, “and we need to stay positive and optimistic and know that it’s our responsibility to keep our community safe, and to keep doing this work together.”

The school board’s Building Construction Oversight Committee is scheduled to meet at 5:00 p.m. on Thursday to discuss the issue further.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Some Burlington Homeowners Shocked by Reappraisal Figures

Posted By on Tue, Apr 13, 2021 at 8:56 PM

  • Zsooofija | Dreamstime
Shelly Waterman expected her home value would go up as a result of Burlington’s recent citywide reappraisal. But she was still surprised to see the final number on paper.

Her three-bedroom, one-bathroom ranch in the New North End was previously valued at $209,100. Its new value: $269,500, a $60,400 increase.

“To see your appraisal go up thousands — [for] many, $50,000 or more — really is shocking,” Waterman said.

The reappraisal was the city’s first since 2005 and is meant to ensure that all properties are assessed at fair market value. Property values have increased over time in Burlington’s high-demand housing market, but the tax burden isn’t equally distributed, according to City Assessor John Vickery.

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Monday, April 5, 2021

Weinberger Devotes State of the City Speech to Racial Justice Efforts

Posted By on Mon, Apr 5, 2021 at 10:17 PM

Mayor Miro Weinberger delivers his speech on Monday via Zoom - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Mayor Miro Weinberger delivers his speech on Monday via Zoom
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger began his fourth term on Monday night by pledging to fight for racial justice, an issue he called the city's “most pressing emergency and our hardest challenge."

In a virtual state of the city speech that was at times somber and contrite, Weinberger said that Burlington must shift its focus to eradicating systemic racism now that an end to the coronavirus pandemic in sight.

“My administration has attempted to work on racial justice in the past,” Weinberger said. “However, it is clear to me now that our efforts before this past year were inadequate.”

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Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Burlington Police Higher-Ups Withdraw Petition to Unionize

Posted By on Wed, Mar 31, 2021 at 7:31 PM

  • Alain Lacroix | Dreamstime
Burlington police sergeants and lieutenants are no longer seeking to form a collective bargaining unit.

The New England Police Benevolent Association had filed a petition to unionize on behalf of the department's 15 sergeants and lieutenants on March 3. The petitioners and the city were scheduled to appear before the Vermont Labor Relations Board at 9 a.m. on Thursday.

On Wednesday, however, the officers' attorney asked the labor board to cancel the hearing and withdraw the petition, effectively closing the case — for now, anyway.

"They retain the ability to file another petition and litigate the issues in the future, if they choose to go that route," assistant city attorney Justin St. James wrote in an email to Seven Days.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Art Broken: A Mural Defaced, Then Cleaned Up, in the Old North End

Posted By on Tue, Mar 30, 2021 at 4:28 PM

Tony Shull's mural on Nunyun's. - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Tony Shull's mural on Nunyun's.

For about 40 years, Burlington artist Tony Shull has painted murals  — colorful and humorous pieces that light up his city's streetscape. One adorns the north side of the Nunyuns Bakery & Café building in the Old North End, at the corner of North Champlain and North streets.

Affixed to the clapboard exterior, Shull’s lively and intriguing 2017 mural — rendered in purple, blues and greens — depicts people, a spaceship, an eye in the sky, a rock n’ roll band, a dog in a wagon and a man in a fish.

Friday evening, Shull’s mural was vandalized by a person who used the same medium Shull uses to make art: paint.

In gold, a tagger wrote SP DISARM across the painting. A corner of the mural was tagged AC/DC LIVE WIRE.

Shull, who is in his mid-70s, won’t see the damage. He’s in hospice care at home, according to several friends. On Monday night, his friend Megan Humphrey spoke to Shull on the telephone. In an email to Seven Days, she wrote: “He just said he was too sick to go see it and to see how it could be fixed.”

Burlington photographer Carolyn Bates said that “tagging” isn’t the correct term to describe the graffiti on Shull’s work; she called it “malicious destruction.” It coincides with a COVID-19-era graffiti epidemic in Burlington, according to police and other city officials.

Neighbors registered disapproval on a Facebook page. “Not cool,” one woman wrote. … “Yeah we wanna disarm, but destroying someone else’s art ain’t the way to go about it.” She added: “This original base art is genius. Hope the crap comes off!”

The good news: Much of it already has. By Tuesday afternoon, Bates and Nunyuns co-owner Paul Bonelli had used a graffiti-removal spray to take off much of the gold paint — which will delight Shull's fans.

“Tony’s a guerrilla artist,” Humphrey said. “His idea of doing artwork all over Burlington was just to share his drawings. He was very laissez-faire about sharing his art, everywhere.”

“Tony, over the years, saw a blank wall and he couldn’t stand it,” Bates said. “He found the owners, got permission, and painted the wall.”

Bates is working on a book about the 150 murals in Burlington. The project led her to work on another volume dedicated to Shull’s art. She estimates that Shull painted about 15 of the city’s murals. He also painted on canvas; some 50 Shull works are at Four Corners of the Earth sandwich shop on Pine Street, according to Bates.

“He’s got such an incredible, unique sense of humor,” she said. “He creates his own world. He loves having heads tipped over and people coming out of them.”

Humphrey recalled befriending Shull almost 40 years ago when they were neighbors. One day she walked into her yard to see a sculpture of a spacecraft that Shull had made from recycled material. The piece included a Martian holding a sign that read, “Hello, Earth girl, I think you’re beautiful.” She thought it was funny, and they became friends.

If you're interested in Shull's work, an exhibit opens on April 18 at Sequoia Salon in Burlington. Phone ahead at 540-8333 to reserve a time for viewing.

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Friday, March 26, 2021

Dodson Plagiarized Portions of Report on Burlington Police Transformation

Posted By on Fri, Mar 26, 2021 at 3:25 PM

Kyle Dodson at his introductory press conference last September - FILE: DEREK BROUWER ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Derek Brouwer ©️ Seven Days
  • Kyle Dodson at his introductory press conference last September
Updated on March 29, 2021.

The City of Burlington’s director of police transformation plagiarized significant portions of a final report he turned in last week, according to an analysis by Seven Days.

Kyle Dodson was appointed by Mayor Miro Weinberger last October to oversee the city’s police reform efforts. He took a six-month leave of absence from his job as CEO and president of the Greater Burlington YMCA for the special assignment, which was to end April 1.

Dodson turned in his final report on March 19. The document — sent to city councilors and police commissioners on Thursday and obtained by Seven Days — borrowed liberally from several websites, including those of the City of Cambridge, Mass., and Georgetown Law school.

Dodson included links, but didn’t actually attribute some of these passages. Other sections that appeared to be Dodson’s own analysis were actually lifted from elsewhere, with no acknowledgment of the original source. A Seven Days review found that more than half of the document’s 1,542 words were not Dodson’s own.

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Thursday, March 25, 2021

Burlington Police Sergeants, Lieutenants File Petition to Unionize

Posted By on Thu, Mar 25, 2021 at 2:42 PM

Protesters last summer in Burlington - FILE: JAMES BUCK ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: James Buck ©️ Seven Days
  • Protesters last summer in Burlington
The City of Burlington is opposing an effort by police higher-ups to form a union.

If given the go-ahead by the Vermont Labor Relations Board, the department's 15 sergeants and lieutenants will be able to hold an election to form a collective bargaining unit. These officers are not members of the city's existing police union, the Burlington Police Officers' Association.

A successful union drive would mean that only the Burlington police chief and two deputy chiefs would not be protected by a union.

The New England Police Benevolent Association filed a petition on behalf of the Burlington sergeants and lieutenants on March 3. The city responded on March 15, asserting that the arrangement would be “problematic” as lieutenants serve as sergeants' direct supervisors. Further, the city wrote, the state labor board  ordered sergeants and lieutenants removed from the existing police union in 2001 “because they are supervisory employees.”

“The City does not believe that any circumstances exist to change that prior determination,” assistant city attorney Justin St. James wrote in the two-page filing.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Deemed Not Historic, Burlington's Midtown Motel Is Demolished

Posted By on Wed, Mar 24, 2021 at 2:45 PM

The site of the former Midtown Motel - COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • The site of the former Midtown Motel
The space where Burlington’s landmark Midtown Motel once stood is now an empty lot.

Property owner Jeff Nick tore down the 1950s-era motel last month, hiring a crew trained in asbestos removal to discard the remnants safely. The process took six weeks.

The cordoned-off lot is now filled with gravel, but Nick plans to convert it into a grassy space that he hopes will spur redevelopment of the so-called “gateway block” to the Queen City.

“Hopefully when COVID’s over, everybody can refocus and figure out what should happen on this block,” Nick said, referring to the area contained by Main Street, South Union Street and South Winooski Avenue. “It’s prime even in today’s market.”

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Monday, March 22, 2021

Welch: Burlington to Receive $27.3 Million in Federal Stimulus Cash

Posted By on Mon, Mar 22, 2021 at 11:56 PM

  • File: Paul Heintz ©️ Seven Days
  • Rep. Peter Welch
Burlington will receive $27.3 million in federal stimulus dollars to help recover from the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) told the City Council at a meeting on Monday.

The cash comes from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law earlier this month. Burlington’s piece of the pie includes a $19 million city allocation, plus an $8.3 million "county allocation," Welch said. Additionally, the Burlington School District will receive $14.3 million.
Half the cash should be available within 60 days, Welch said, with the balance to follow in six months to a year. Municipalities have until 2024 to spend the funds.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

'I Made a Mistake': Weinberger to Allow Racial Equity Director to Oversee Police Study

Posted By on Wed, Mar 17, 2021 at 3:41 PM

  • File: Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • Mayor Miro Weinberger
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger has reversed course and will allow Tyeastia Green, the city’s director of racial equity, inclusion and belonging, to manage a planned assessment of the police department — and issued a frank apology about his own bias.

Weinberger had announced on Monday that he’d replaced Green, the only Black department head in the city, with Darren Springer, a white man who serves as general manager of the Burlington Electric Department, to oversee the study. The police assessment has been planned since last summer, when the City Council voted to reduce the size of the department by 30 percent amid a racial justice movement inspired by allegations that officers had used excessive force during arrests.

The mayor told members of the Police Commission and City Council in an email that he’d replaced Green to insert an “independent department head who has been neutral and separate from the contentious debates in recent months over proper officer staffing levels.”

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