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Four school districts advance bids for state repair funds

Four area school districts have cleared an initial hurdle in their bid to secure state funding for building upgrades.

Six schools in the Medford, Hamilton-Wenham Regional, Pentucket Regional, and Westford districts were recently invited by the Massachusetts School Building Authority into its Accelerated Repair Program.

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The schools were among 43 that the authority’s board selected for the program, which helps fund projects to repair or replace school roofs, windows, and boilers.

Selected schools must develop schematic designs and project budgets over the coming months. If it approves the plan, the MSBA can vote to provide partial reimbursement for a project, subject to the district authorizing the full amount.

“We’re very happy to have been invited in,” said Kathy Auth, director of school finance in Westford.

The district is seeking funding to replace windows at its Robinson and Day elementary schools, which Auth said are aged and in disrepair. She said the new windows would be more energy efficient and allow more light into the classrooms.

Estimates last fall put the cost of the windows at $1.1 million for the Day school and $570,000 for the Robinson school. The preliminary figure for MSBA reimbursement is 45 percent.

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Auth said if the MSBA approves the project, the district hopes to put a funding request before the annual Town Meeting next March.

The Pentucket Regional School District, which serves students in Groveland, Merrimac, and West Newbury, was invited into the program for its planned boiler and roof replacement project at the middle school. The district has been replacing the boilers, windows, and roofs at its four elementary schools under the MSBA’s Green Repair program.

“The natural progression is to look at the high school and the middle school campus,” said Mike Bergeron, Pentucket’s business manager.

About 12 years ago, Pentucket replaced most of its middle school roof. Now it wants to replace the remaining portion, the section above the auditorium, Bergeron said.

“We haven’t had any substantial leaks but the maintenance on the roof each year is getting more and more intensive,” he said.

The school’s two boilers also need to be replaced, Bergeron said, noting that both are more than 20 years old. He said the efficiency of the new boilers will reduce the school’s energy costs.

Whether the project will require Town Meeting appropriations or new property taxes will depend in part on the cost — not yet estimated — and the outcome of pending legislation that would enable Pentucket to tap its stabilization fund for the project.

Medford is seeking MSBA funds to replace windows and a boiler at the city’s 43-year-old high school building.

“We are very pleased that they came out and took a good look and said we made an intelligent request for assistance given the years of our building,” said Superintendent Roy E. Belson.

The district replaced one of two aging boilers at the school in 2010. The current project calls for replacing the other — which is no longer in operation — with a more energy efficient model.

The upgrades would follow a $14 million project Medford is undertaking this summer to replace its high school science labs with 17 new ones, and $3.3 million in districtwide technology improvements last year, many at the high school.

The Hamilton-Wenham Regional School District is seeking funding to replace the boilers at the Bessie Buker and Winthrop elementary schools, as well as the windows at the Winthrop.

The district had planned to undertake the projects even without the state funds, said William R. Dery, a member of the regional school board and chairman of its school building committee. “Obviously, any money that will help deplete the towns’ tax burden certainly is welcome,” he said.

Hamilton-Wenham last fall was awarded funding to replace the Cutler Elementary School roof, but the agency previously turned down the district’s bid for funds for proposed upgrades at the other two schools, which also included roof replacement at the Winthrop.

On Thursday, the district was scheduled to begin work on the Cutler roof, and the roof replacement at the Winthrop, which is being done without MSBA funding.

The overall improvements have been estimated at $2 million, but Dery said the figure could end up as high as $2.5 million, with the MSBA reimbursement estimated at 40 percent.

Dery said his committee hopes to be able to seek appropriations from Hamilton and Wenham’s fall Town Meeting sessions for the project. Special elections would be needed to take up a Proposition 2½ debt-exclusion override, a tax increase lasting for the length of time to pay off the loan.

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

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