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Burlington

High school may get upgrade

The renovation and expansion of the Marshall Simonds Middle School is coming to a close, but another major school building project may soon be on the horizon in Burlington.

The School Department is initiating the process of seeking partial reimbursement from the Massachusetts School Building Authority for a potential project to upgrade the high school’s heating and ventilation system and make other interior renovations to the building.

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The School Committee on Jan. 8 authorized the district to submit a “statement of interest” to the authority for the estimated $18 million to $19 million renovation, the required first step for a project to be considered for state funding.

Craig Robinson, the School Department’s director of finance and operations, said the district plans to submit the statement of interest by this year’s April 10 deadline.

The renovation, if it goes forward, would follow two other significant building projects Burlington has recently undertaken.

‘We know our mechanical systems have to be replaced. . . . We understand it may not happen next year . . . , [but] we need to start having that conversation now.’

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The $32.8 million Marshall Simonds project, which began in June 2011 and is substantially complete, has involved renovating the existing 118,000-square-foot Winn Street building and constructing a 151,225-square-foot addition.

Across the street, the town in July 2011 completed the $29 million construction of a new 80,000-square-foot Memorial Elementary School in front of the existing school, a 1952 building that was demolished that August.

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The state is reimbursing about 52 percent of the eligible costs of the Memorial School project, and 54 percent  for the Marshall Simonds one.

School Superintendent Eric Conti said that as a result of the projects, the two schools “provide a wonderful gateway into Burlington. I think they better reflect the quality of the people inside the buildings and are a wonderful reflection of the community” and its support for public education.

He said the projects also “allowed us to make a good case that as a community, we take care of the buildings we have,” he said, noting that before the Memorial School project, the town’s newest school was the high school, completed in 1971.

Robinson said the high school project is needed because of the age of the heating and ventilation system, which was original to the building. He said at 42 years old, the system’s boilers, air handlers, and compressors are all at or beyond their life expectancies.

“By changing that entire HVAC plant, it’s going to trigger other things that need to be [upgraded] and brought up to code — sprinklers, fire alarms, lighting, other building improvements,” Robinson said. “And to do those things, we need to take the ceilings down.” He said all that related work would be included in the project.

Robinson said that the project would add 30 to 40 years to the life of the 365,000-square-foot building, which he noted is in good structural condition. The Cambridge Street school has a current enrollment of about 1,020 students.

Conti noted that the high school renovation is the next major project on the district’s long-term capital plan.

“We know our mechanical systems have to be replaced,” he said. “We are trying to be as proactive as possible. We understand it may not happen next year, but this is a multiyear planning process, as was the elementary school and the middle school. We need to start having that conversation now.”

If the state authority accepts the school into its eligibility period — the initial phase in the agency’s funding pipeline — the district would enter a 270-day period in which it would have to meet certain requirements to be invited to undertake a feasibility study.

Should that happen, the town would have to appropriate funds for the study that would evaluate potential options and select a preferred one. The authority would provide partial reimbursement for the study as well as for the subsequent preparation of a schematic design.

With the completion of the design, the authority’s board would decide whether to provide partial reimbursement for the overall project. Town Meeting would then have to appropriate full funding, a required step even though the state would later reimburse part of the cost.

A ceremony held Jan. 14 to mark the nearly completed Marshall Simonds School project was attended by Jack McCarthy, executive director of the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

“These upgrades will extend the working life of the building, while at the same time creating a 21st-century learning environment for Burlington students,” McCarthy said in a prepared statement.

The building was constructed in 1961 as the town’s high school and was converted to the middle school in 1971. Student enrollment is currently about 850.

The project involved replacing aging building features, including the roof, floor, lighting, and ceilings, electrical and plumbing systems, and technology equipment. The school has six new science labs, a new, more spacious library, two computer labs, and new administrative offices, all housed in the new addition.

The construction of the addition freed up room in the existing building to dedicate space for art, music, and special education.

Through the use of leftover contingency funds, the district will also be installing an artificial turf field, and, if there is enough money, a new running track.

Workers are completing a “punch-list” of small remaining tasks, and the field should be installed this spring, according to Robinson, who said the project is on budget and ahead of schedule.

Both the Marshall Simonds and Memorial Elementary School projects were built by CTA Construction and designed by KBA Architects.

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

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