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Danvers seeks funds for Smith School rehab

Danvers has begun an effort to overhaul or replace its nearly four-decade-old Ivan G. Smith Elementary School.

The town on Jan. 11 initiated the process of seeking partial state reimbursement for a Smith School project by submitting a “statement of interest’’ to the Massachusetts School Building Authority that outlines problems with the building, built in 1973.

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Town officials said the project is needed to do away with the building’s outmoded “open classroom’’ layout. The windows, roof, lighting, mechanical systems, and exterior walls also need to be replaced, they said.

The filing with the School Building Authority comes as the town is in the midst of a $71 million renovation and expansion of the high school. That project, which is receiving partial state reimbursement, is due for completion in September 2013.

“I’m hopeful,’’ said Wayne P. Marquis, town manager, of the prospect that the school building authority would help fund a Smith School project, whose costs have not yet been estimated.

“We’ve been through this process before. . . and I believe we’ve established solid credibility with the MSBA that when we put something together it is factual and accurate,’’ he added. “Given the importance of modernizing this school. . . I would hope the MSBA would agree to partner with us.’’

The Board of Selectmen on Jan. 3 and the School Committee on Jan. 9 voted to authorize the town to submit the statement of interest.

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The filing of the statement kicks off a process in which the school building authority will decide whether to invite the Smith School into its funding pipeline. If it does so, the district would have to proceed next with a feasibility study to evaluate different options for a project and come up with a preferred alternative.

Using $50,000 included in the current town budget, Danvers plans to undertake a preliminary study this year to begin looking at the building’s needs in advance of what officials hope will be the eventual feasibility study.

Lisa Dana, the school superintendent, said the town wants to be “proactive in gathering some of our own information’’ while it awaits the decision on whether the project will be invited into the state funding pipeline.

The project would be the latest in a series the town has undertaken to modernize its schools - the high school, the middle school, and five elementary schools.

In addition to the ongoing high school project, the town renovated the former Holten-Richmond school building into a new middle school that opened in 2005. In the 1990s, it carried out renovation and expansion projects at the Hobart, Riverside, and Great Oak elementary schools. And over the last five years, the town has worked on a series of improvements to modernize the Thorpe Elementary School, according to Marquis.

The K-5 Smith School, a 43,300-square-foot, two-story building on Lobau Drive, has never undergone a major renovation, according to David Lane, the town’s public works director.

“It’s a solid building with an outdated floor layout that doesn’t work for educational programs and has systems and utilities that are at the end of their useful life,’’ he said.

Because it long ago dropped the “school without walls’’ concept, the school over the years has installed partitions to separate rooms. But because the heating and ventilation system was designed to serve an open area, the partitions do not extend to the ceiling, which allows sound to travel among the classrooms.

“In today’s world, where we really try to do more collaborative, small-group learning, not having walls and doors makes for more of a challenge in the school,’’ Dana said.

The roof was replaced in 1991 but is due for replacement again, Lane said. The town upgraded the heating system in 2000, converting from electric heat to natural gas. But Lane said rooftop heating and air conditioning units are due for replacement.

He said other needed improvements include replacing the existing single-pane windows with more energy-efficient ones, installing new energy-efficient lighting throughout the building, and replacing some of the exterior wall panels, in addition to upgrading mechanical systems. The drainage system on the site also needs to be improved to prevent rainwater from flowing toward the building during storms.

Dana said that in addition to providing classroom spaces more conducive to small-group learning, educational benefits from the project would include allowing for enhanced technology and the ability to add a performing arts stage.

Although various options - including a new school - would be considered in a feasibility study, officials said that renovation is the most likely one, given that the site is near wetlands, which would limit the possibility of new construction. Marquis said the town also has chosen renovation when possible.

“In Danvers, we take recycling to the next level,’’ he said. “We like to recycle newspapers, bottles, and cans, and we like to recycle our buildings,’ citing the middle school and previous elementary school projects. “If a building is good in the first place, after it goes through the normal cycle, you can rebuild it and use it again and save money.’’

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