‘Cool but weird’: former Macy’s store in Vermont converted into high school

BURLINGTON, Vt. — From “way to shop” to “way to learn” -- a Vermont high school opened in early March, using the space that once housed a Macy’s department store in a downtown mall.

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On March 2, school officials in Burlington unveiled the Burlington High School campus. Students returned to in-school learning three days later, the Seven Days newspaper reported. Half of the student body began attending classes on Mondays and Thursdays, while the other half of students attended on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the newspaper reported. Wednesdays are remote-learning days for all students.

Students use escalators and elevators from the old store to change classes. The new school covers 150,000 square feet.

“It’s weird but cool at the same time,” freshman Moses Doe, 15, told The Associated Press.

The new site for the school opened six months after administrators closed the original campus because toxic industrial chemicals were found in the building and soil during renovations, Seven Days reported. The school had been shuttered for a year; in March 2020 it was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Days before its reopening in September, the school closed indefinitely after elevated levels of cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were detected in several buildings, the newspaper reported.

“It’s amazing to think that we are standing in what used to be a department store; that we’re greeting people where we used to buy winter coats; reading books where they once sold fine china; taking phone calls in converted changing rooms; and learning science in the old suit racks,” Superintendent Tom Flanagan said during the school’s opening ceremony in early March.

Macy’s may be gone from the building, but some remnants of the venerable department store are evident in the new high school, which underwent a $3.5 million facelift. The white tile floors remain, along with cherry red carpeting, Seven Days reported. Calvin Klein and Michael Kors signs are still on the walls, along with a large Levi’s jeans photo, the newspaper reported.

The library once was Macy’s china department, while the gymnasium is housed in the store’s warehouse, the AP reported.

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger congratulated school district leaders for acting “decisively and quickly” to open the new building, Seven Days reported.

”A city isn’t really a city without a high school,” Weinberger said when the new school was dedicated. “There’s been this real void for months.”