Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Going to School in a Dead Mall? Not Such a Bad Idea.

Cat Cutillo for Seven Days.

A Michael Kors sign in the cafeteria. Teachers posing in front of a Levi’s ad. A library in the shoe department. Classroom walls — that didn’t even reach the ceiling! — cutting across three types of flooring. The photos of Burlington (Vermont) High School’s new home, the former downtown Macy’s, that hit the internet last week weren’t pretty. “The high school I went to was found to have unsafe levels of toxic chemicals so they built a makeshift school in the Macy’s in the town’s abandoned mall, and I have never seen something more dystopian” tweeted the Washington Post’s Aviva Loeb.

But I saw something different. Two things, actually: (a) a thousand kids going back to school during a pandemic in one of the few spaces in the city big enough to accommodate them at safe distances. “This just kind of feels like a place we can call home, you know? Kind of our place now, where finally we can just be again,” Wyatt Harte, a BHS senior, told local TV station WCAX on March 4, reopening day.