It’s been a surreal year for everyone, but high school kids must feel extra strange. COVID-19 disrupted all semblance of normalcy in 2020, closing down businesses, venues, and schools around the globe. The pandemic made it extra hard for anyone just trying to get through their teenage years without fuss.
But high school students in Burlington, Vermont have it even weirder. On March 4, they went back to class in a new building, after the former Burlington High School closed down due to chemical contamination concerns. Now, the students attend school in a building that was formerly a Macy’s department store. To make matters all the more confusing and bizarre, the building still looks just like a working Macy’s, complete with escalators and signs for labels like Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein still on the walls.
We first learned about Burlington High School’s new downtown campus thanks to BuzzFeed. The site links to a TikTok video from 16-year-old student Miranda Ljung-Baruth walking us through her new reality. “I’m literally going to school in Macy’s what is happening?” her TikTok asks.
In a YouTube video from Cat Cutillo shared by SevenDaysVT, we see even more of this converted Macy’s. Kids eat their lunch in a cafeteria donned with Michael Kors posters. Old merchandise shelves stand in for library bookshelves. Fitting rooms are now bathrooms. There’s a ton of giant, empty, white space that gives the whole thing a strange, almost clinical feel.
According to local Vermont news station WCAX, it took 10 weeks and $10 million to convert this old Macy’s into a functioning high school. In an interview, Burlington Schools superintendent Tom Flanagan noted, “This is going to be a high school. This is not designed as a temporary space.” The campus could be in use for up to three years; however long it takes to clean up and renovate the original Burlington High School. That building closed last September after elevated levels of PCBs were discovered. The students have been learning remotely since its closure.
Macy’s department stores provide so much: clothes, bedding, makeup, jewelry, furniture. Now, they’re even optimal spaces for learning. So long as you can get over the whole “taking an escalator to class” thing.