School Commissioner Update

Hi Neighbors — Last night, the Infrastructure and Technology Committee of the School Board held a meeting at the Ira Allen Building. It was an unusually well-attended meeting: about 50 people turned out in support of improving accessibility at the Edmunds complex. During an hour-long public comment session, many people spoke eloquently about the challenges that they or people they know have faced in accessing the century-old buildings on the hill. Others, including a number of students at Champlain Elementary, talked about the value of diversity in their classroom and the loss they would experience if mobility-challenged classmates could not go to Edmunds Middle School with them.

Following the public comment session, the ITC Committee heard testimony from two experts on accessibility issues, Deborah Lisi-Baker of the Vermont Center for Independent Living and Sam Abel-Palmer, an attorney with the Disability Law Project. Both provided a variety of information about disability law in the United States and Vermont, and argued among other things that the availability of separate accessible middle school (Hunt) does not relieve the District of an obligation to make the Edmunds schools accessible to all.

The ITC committee, the Administration, and various members of the public then held a brief discussion and Q&A session about the District’s accessibility efforts. Architect Colin Lindberg is currently evaluating the feasibility and cost of putting one elevator in the Edmunds Middle School to provide some access to that facility. Ultimately, given the age and complexity of the buildings, up to five elevators will be required in order to provide complete access to all of the resources and academic programs in the complex. Just as a reminder, complete accessibility in all our facilities was part of the 226 million dollar master plan that never made it to the ballot.

Among other things, the feasibility study under way right now is examining what changes will be required to the interior structure of the building, the electrical system, fire alarms, lead and asbestos abatement, and so forth in order to accommodate an elevator. The Administration expects to have that report back from Mr. Lindberg in the next few weeks.

Once a price range has been established for this initial project, then the ITC committee, the Finance committee, and ultimately the full Board can begin discussing funding options. It is increasingly clear that Governor Douglas does not intend to direct any of the state’s discretionary federal stimulus funds to school construction projects. (The District is scheduled to receive some federal stimulus funds directly, but those are dedicated to specific purposes that do not include construction or repair). There are several other financing options we can pursue, so I am optimistic that with the help of the community we can find a way forward. We certainly heard from many of our neighbors last night that they are ready to roll up their sleeves to make this happen, and that’s an important asset.

The Board will be discussing the issue of accessibility at Edmunds and throughout the District at its upcoming finance and full Board meetings, and also at our annual retreat on Friday, May 22 (along with the many other issues always on our full plate).

Board members unanimously approved a resolution last month expressing their determination “to provide full accessibility to all Burlington school facilities,” and I know that there is strong commitment on the part of each Board member to help the District move forward on this issue. We welcome the support of the community, and look forward to your help and energy in making that goal a reality.

Fred Lane
12 Catherine Street
School Board Chair and Ward 5 Commissioner

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