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School building authority approves projects

The Massachusetts School Building Authority has given local school construction projects a major boost by approving grants for a new elementary school in Revere, a new science lab at Medford High School, and new windows for the North Intermediate School in Wilmington.

State Treasurer Steven Grossman, chairman of the authority, and Jack McCarthy, the executive director, announced that the authority’s board of directors voted to fund those projects on Jan. 30.  

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At that meeting, the board also invited Georgetown to conduct a feasibility study of the town’s middle/high school and approved the final audit for renovation work that was completed at Veterans Memorial High School in Peabody in 2010.  

Revere was the biggest winner, securing a grant of up to $29.55 million to build a new school to replace the 108-year-old William McKinley Elementary School, which has a dilapidated roof and deficient mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems. The total budget for the project is about $44 million.

“This is a down payment on the academic excellence of McKinley students,” Grossman said in a written statement. “Upon completion, this new school will provide a modern learning environment and create the space needed to deliver on the school district’s educational commitments and goals.”

The new school will be built on Hill Park and be named the Master Sergeant James J. Hill Elementary School after the World War II veteran, said Superintendent Paul S. Dakin, noting that it will be designed for 690 prekindergarten through grade 5 students. The McKinley serves 483 children.

“By the time the school is built, we will need every one of those seats,” said Dakin, noting that the project completes a comprehensive plan he introduced in 2000 to replace five of the city’s public schools. “Our enrollment figures have gone up by 175 to 250 kids each year over the last five years, with the biggest enrollment bulge at the elementary level.”

According to Dakin, Mayor Daniel Rizzo is expected within the next month to present a bond authorization package for the city’s share of the project to the City Council. If all goes according to plan, the Hill School would open in August 2015, the superintendent said.

In Medford, city officials already have approved funding for improvements to the science labs at Medford High School. Medford was one of 11 schools selected last June for funding under the state building authority’s Science Laboratory Initiative, through which $60 million in federal stimulus money is being allocated.

The $8 million Medford grant will cover nearly 58 percent of the total project budget of $13.8 million. The Medford City Council already has approved a bond for Medford’s $5.8 million share of the cost. Work on the labs is expected to be completed by March or April of 2014. The project calls for the renovation of nine existing labs and the construction of eight new ones.

“Medford High School was built in 1970, and while improvements were certainly made over the years, everything about the way we teach science these days is different: different materials, different setups, even the method of instruction has changed,” said Superintendent Roy Belson, noting that the project is a natural next step for a district that has in the past year invested $3.3 million in new technologies.

In Wilmington, George Hooper, the public buildings superintendent, was expected to bring the proposed expenditure for the replacement of North Intermediate School’s windows to the town’s Finance Committee on Thursday today for review. An article will be drafted for the Annual Town Meeting warrant for voters to consider May 4.

The new windows are expected to cost nearly $1.48 million. The authority MSBA approved a grant of $705,182, but town officials expect the reimbursement to total $737,374, said Michael Newhouse, chairman of the Board of Selectmen.  

“Throughout my 17 years in town government, I have never seen the taxpayers of Wilmington reject a worthwhile educational initiative,” Newhouse wrote in an e-mail. “Given this track record, I am confident the residents will support this important project at Town Meeting’’ this May.

In Georgetown, local officials hope to get the feasibility study of the town’s middle/high school underway this spring. Town Administrator Michael Farrell said the building authority wants to be sure the district’s plans to move sixth-graders out of the three-story middle/high school building and into the new Penn Brook Elementary School will eliminate overcrowding issues. The state approved $20.3 million for the new Penn Brook in October, and voters in November approved a debt exclusion — a tax increase for as long as it takes to pay off the debt — to fund the town’s $25.6 million share of the $46 million project.

The feasibility study for the middle/high school will examine how third-floor classroom space being vacated by sixth-grade students should be used.

Georgetown appropriated $85,000 for the study at its 2012 Fall Town Meeting, Farrell said. Renovation work on the middle/high school is expected to begin once the new Penn Brook School opens in 2015 and the sixth-graders are relocated, he added.

The building authority also approved the final audit for major renovations at Veterans Memorial High School in Peabody, ensuring a reimbursement of $11.83 million for a multi-phase project that was started in 2004.  

The work included upgrades to the girls’ locker room; replacement of the heating and cooling system; a new fire protection system; and an upgraded elevator, ramps, and signs to make the building compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, town officials said. In all, the project cost about $21 million.

“It was a longstanding project that accomplished a lot of things at the high school,” said Patricia Shaffer, Peabody’s director of finance.

Brenda J. Buote may be reached at brenda.buote@gmail.com
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