The students were unable to return to their old school after elevated levels of PCBs were found

By Rachel DeSantis
March 11, 2021 11:29 AM
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Burlington High School students in Vermont recently headed back to school — but instead of going to class in their old hallways, they're learning from what used to be a Macy's.

The so-called "Downtown BHS" opened its doors to students on March 4, with the campus having been transformed from an old department store into a school, complete with classrooms, a library and a cafeteria, local newspaper Seven Days reported.

The unconventional space went viral on TikTok after a student shared a video with the caption, "I'm literally going to school in a Macy's what is happening."

The video featured the student riding an escalator, and sitting in class near an old Levi's display. The new cafeteria — located beneath a former Michael Kors display — was also featured, as was the Calvin Klein shelf library.

"When we were designing spaces, we wanted to pay homage to the fact that this was a Macy's instead of trying to hide that fact or cover it up, so we deliberately left some of the old fixtures and signage and worked to incorporate them into our new learning spaces," Principal Lauren McBride told BuzzFeed News. "We want to recognize that while converting an old Macy's into a school may be different or odd — we are embracing that this is really unique and fun."

The students' return earlier this month was the first time they've attended classes in person since the coronavirus pandemic prompted a shift to remote learning last March.

Though students were slated to go back to in-person learning in September, the plan was pushed back and the school was closed indefinitely after elevated levels of cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were detected in several buildings, Seven Days reported.

To get kids back in classrooms, the district reportedly signed a three-and-a-half year lease on the former Macy's as a temporary solution.

The 150,000 square-foot space reportedly underwent a $3.5 million renovation over 10 weeks to install a cafeteria, library, music, art and physical education rooms, as well as dozens of classrooms, as seen in the video above, which was captured by Cat Cutillo for Seven Days.

So far, the project has been well-received by students like senior Ariel Felcan, who told Seven Days it was "really cool."

"The walls aren't exactly soundproof, but it's kind of nice because it's nice to hear all these different voices," added senior Wyatt Harte to CBS affiliate WCAX. "You feel like you're kind of back in a community again."

The students will reportedly go to class on alternating schedules, with half the student body going on Monday and Thursday, and the other half on Tuesday and Friday, while Wednesday will be remote learning for everyone.