Thursday, January 6, 2011

Newspaper Covers Edmunds Elevator Progress

In today's Free Press...

Burlington school renovations make progress
By Molly Walsh
Burlington Free Press
Thursday, January 6, 2011

The ribbon-cutting ceremony planned for a new elevator at Edmunds Middle School on Jan. 19 will wrap up a wave of improvements at city schools over the past 18 months and be followed by another round, school officials said.

The $1.5 million elevator project will improve handicap access in the century-old, multi-story structure whose many stairs are an obstacle for people with mobility problems.

Michael Wood-Lewis, a South End parent who led the campaign to make the building more accessible, said the elevator means one of the most prominent public school buildings in Vermont -- located on Main Street in Vermont's most populous city -- will finally be open to all.

"It's very significant. It means that people who use wheelchairs or have other mobility issues will now be able to work in the building or be a student in the building or attend events or vote," Wood-Lewis said.

The elevator will allow 11-year-old Ben Wood-Lewis, a fifth-grader at Champlain School who has cerebral palsy, to attend Edmunds Middle next year with his current classmates rather than being assigned to the one-story Hunt Middle School across the city in the New North End.

Until now, it has been district practice to assign South End students who use wheelchairs to attend Hunt because Hunt is handicapped accessible. Michael Wood-Lewis argued that this practice was unfair for many reasons, including the way it separated students from their grade school peers.

Ben Wood-Lewis, who was recently in the hospital, came home to find 30 get-well cards from buddies at Champlain -- underscoring the importance of friendship, his father said.

"These are his classmates and these are the folks he's going to middle school with now," Michael Wood-Lewis said.

The elevator project is just one item on an ambitious list of renovations, including some that cost significantly more than anticipated. Voters approved a $9.7 million bond in 2009 that was supposed to pay for overhauls at three schools but will come up short. Costs for some projects exceeded estimates:

-- Work at the Sustainability Academy at Lawrence Barnes was expected to cost $2.5 million when the bond went to voters, was estimated at $3 million last year after a kitchen renovation was added and will cost about $3.27 million.

-- Work at C.P. Smith School was estimated at $3.1 million but will cost about $4 million, said Chris Giard, property services director for Burlington Schools.

-- The reminder of the $9.7 million bond will not be enough to cover the third renovation project, at J.J. Flynn School, which was projected to cost $3.96 million initially but is now pegged at $4.7 million.

The district plans to move forward with the renovations at Flynn and cover costs above the $9.7 million bond through an annual $2 million bonding authority that city voters approved in 2009. This bonding authority and about $300,000 in federal stimulus funds helped pay for the Edmunds elevator.

Burlington Superintendent Jeanne Collins said a number of factors contributed to higher than anticipated costs at Smith and the Sustainability Academy, including the difficulty of making accurate estimates more than 18 months before construction begins. She thanked Burlington voters for their generosity and said she was pleased that so much work has been done in the district, which operates nine schools and owns more than 20 buildings. The recent round of improvements are significant, she said.

"I don't think the district has seen that much work in about 50 years," she said.

Contact Molly Walsh at 660-1874 or

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