See inside a defunct Macy’s that underwent a $3.5 million transformation to become a high school in Vermont

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Downtown Burlington High School is located in a defunct Macy’s store.

  • A high school in Burlington, Vermont moved into a defunct Macy’s store.
  • The school district spent $3.5 million renovating the department store into classrooms.
  • Some abandoned malls across the US are being repurposed for other uses.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.
High school students in Burlington, Vermont are now attending school in what was once a Macy’s department store in a local mall, Lisa Rathke reported for the Associated Press.

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Downtown Burlington High School.

Students at the school spent the previous six months learning remotely after toxic chemicals that can have dangerous health effects, called PCBs, were found in the school building. 

The district signed a six-month lease on the former Macy’s location, spending $3.5 million to renovate the 150,000 square foot space so it would be useable as a school, Seven Days Vermont reported.

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Downtown Burlington High School.

Macy’s closed the location in 2018, but it’s still set up like a standard department store. Dividers separate the huge space into dozens of classrooms, plus a cafeteria, library, and physical education room.

Read more: 9 retail brands that are prime M&A targets in 2021, according to experts

The escalators are one of the features that make Downtown Burlington High School different from others. Students told the AP that escalators and elevators are “nice features” for students.

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Downtown Burlington High School.

Some students and faculty told the AP that the lack of windows can be an issue, and noise travels because the dividing walls don’t reach the ceiling, but the temporary solution is working.

 “It’s way better than being stuck at home on your computer all day long,” Senior Lila Iyengar Lehman told the AP.

The cafeteria is in the space that once held Michael Kors products, and signs of the building’s previous life as a mall are still around.

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Downtown Burlington High School.

Lunch buffets have replaced display cases.

“It’s amazing to think that we are standing in what used to be a department store,” Superintendent Tom Flanagan said at the opening ceremony.

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Downtown Burlington High School.

“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,” he continued.

The china department was transformed into a library, and shelves that once held dinnerware now hold books for high school students.

Downtown Burlington High School
Downtown Burlington High School.

The gym, located in the warehouse, is still a work in progress.

Shuttered American malls are a symptom of the retail apocalypse that led to 9,300 store closings in 2019, 8,300 in 2020, and already more than 1,000 in 2021.

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Downtown Burlington High School.

This trend is especially deadly for malls, which rely on anchor stores like Macy’s and Sears to drive foot traffic inside. 

As malls close, some simply sit empty and abandoned. Others are being repurposed for new uses.

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Downtown Burlington High School.

Epic Games spend $95 million on a North Carolina mall with plans to turn it into a new company headquarters.

Other malls are being used as mass COVID-19 vaccination centers, including the Mall of America in Minnesota and the Townsquare Mall in New Jersey.

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