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Lynn plans for possible school project

Lynn is moving toward its first major school building project in more than a decade, as plans to replace or overhaul the Thurgood Marshall Middle School  pick up steam.

The city’s district is undertaking a feasibility study on how to address the needs of the 89-year-old east Lynn school, the first major step in Lynn’s bid to secure reimbursement for a project from the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

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“I’m thrilled we are in the pipeline,” said Superintendent Catherine Latham. “It takes a couple of years to get to this point . . . and it’s going really fast now. It’s really exciting.”

Lynn’s last significant school construction project was Lynn Classical High School, which opened in 1999.  

Should the authority approve funding for a Marshall Middle School project, the state would reimburse the city for 80 percent of the estimated $50 million to $65 million cost.  

City officials said they expect construction of a new school to be the preferred option emerging from the study, which will also look at overhauling the existing school, and renovating and expanding it.

“We will know at the end what the study tells us, but given what we know about the condition of the building and the cost of repairs, it just seems likely that a new building would be the outcome,” said Michael J. Donovan, the city’s inspectional services director and building commissioner.

The city hopes to complete the study in time to present its results to the School Building Authority board at its meeting in January. Should it accept the results, the board would ask for a design, setting the stage for a vote in June on whether to offer reimbursement.

If the building authority agrees to funding, the city would have 120 days to authorize the full project amount. That would require a City Council appropriation, and a ballot vote under city rules that require voter approval of any borrowing that exceeds $4 million. Officials do not plan to seek a debt exclusion, or temporary tax increase, for the project.

The 144,100-square-foot Marshall School, on Porter Street, is one of three middle schools in Lynn, serving about 960 students in grades 6 to 8.

Opened in 1923, the school was known as the Eastern Junior High School until it was renamed several decades ago. The building gained a third- floor addition sometime before the 1960s, and an adjacent addition in about 1965, according to Donovan.

“The building envelope is in very poor shape — the roof, the bricks, the windows,” Donovan said. “The existing infrastructure in the building — the electrical systems, the heating systems — are woefully inadequate.” He said the building is also too small to meet the space needs of the school, and does not provide adequate handicapped access.

Donovan said the city hopes a Marshall Middle School project would kick off a series of projects to overhaul or replace aging school buildings. Besides the Marshall, buildings in need of attention include the Pickering Middle School, which is 100 years old, and the Tracy Elementary School, built in the 1920s.  

Separately, the city is preparing to carry out $5 million in repairs next year to two schools under the state School Building Authority’s Accelerated Repair Program: the replacement of the vocational school roof, and window replacements at the Breed Middle School.  

The City Council last fall appropriated $750,000 for the feasibility study and schematic design of the Marshall School project, with the state agency providing 80 percent reimbursement. Raymond Design Associates  is preparing the feasibility study with the help of a city School Building Committee and the city’s project manager, Joslin Lesser and Associates.  

Ward 3 Councilor Darren Cyr, whose ward forms part of the area of the city served by the Marshall Middle School, strongly supports the project and believes it has the backing of the overall council.

“The school is in dire straits, the condition of it,” said Cyr, who favors the option of a new school.

“I think the state agrees with us that it should be torn down and rebuilt. It doesn’t make sense to put any money into it to do repairs because of the condition of the building,” he said.

Cyr said he is optimistic voters will support the project, citing the 80 percent state reimbursement it would bring, and the positive impact it would have on property values.

Donovan said part of the feasibility study is looking at where a new school would go, if that option is selected. He said possible locations include the current site, a privately owned former industrial site on Brookline Street, or Keaney Park, located behind Lynn English.

The study is also looking at where to temporarily house Marshall students if the building is demolished to make way for a new school.

Donovan said one option is to use part of the vocational school annex. That space is set to be freed up next year when central school offices now located there are moved to another building.

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.
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