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New regional voke school construction on time, on budget

Despite snow and frigid temperatures, construction of the $133 million Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical High School is entering its final phase on the 166-acre campus on Route 62 in Danvers.

New animal-science buildings already are occupied by students and staff. A maintenance building is also completed. The main, three-story academic building — which is bigger than a football field — is on track to be completed by June 30, a top school official said.

“It’s all coming together nicely,” said Dan O’Connell, superintendent of the Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School District. “We’re on time, and on budget.”


Town Manager Wayne Marquis of Danvers, who heads the school building committee, could not be reached for comment.

The new school will merge the current Essex Agricultural & Technical High School in Danvers with the North Shore Regional Vocational Technical High School in Middleton. The 1,440-student school will serve 17 area communities, from Peabody to Rockport.

The school is being built on the current site of Essex Aggie, on the Danvers-Middleton line. The project includes a mix of demolition, renovation, and new construction.

Once completed, the school will offer a vast curriculum, including veterinary technology, floriculture, plumbing, and culinary arts, among other subjects.

“It’s going to be a national showcase for technical education,” said O’Connell, the longtime superintendent of North Shore Tech. “There aren’t any technical schools that include agriculture and vocational education.”

O’Connell credited the steady construction progress with the collaboration of the project’s three main vendors — PMA Consultants, the project manager; Gilbane Construction, the general contractor; and Design Partnership, the architectural firm.

“They work cooperatively to keep construction on schedule,” O’Connell said.

Last week’s storm, which dumped as much as two feet of snow on parts of Essex County, forced construction to stop for two days, O’Connell said.


There have been a few other setbacks. Contaminated soil was discovered near a farmstead building — it has since been removed, O’Connell said. A large amount of asbestos was also found in a building while it was being taken down, he added.

“A big, multimillion-dollar project like this will always have challenges,” O’Connell said. “But as these unforeseen things happen, our team works together to resolve them.”

The Massachusetts School Building Authority is funding $77.5 million of the project costs, and the state’s Executive Office of Administration and Finance is contributing another $21.1 million, according to a project outline.

District communities are responsible for the remaining $35 million, but that amount will be reduced by $4.7 million, from the expected sale of the Middleton school campus to a private business entity, O’Connell said.

Mutual Realty LLC of Middleton has signed a letter of intent to purchase the 13.5-acre property at 30 Log Bridge Road, off Route 114. A purchase-and-sale agreement could be approved at the Jan. 16 meeting of the district school committee, O’Connell said.

“I feel pretty confident the P and S will be signed by then,” he said.

Mutual Realty LLC is a Middleton-based business entity managed by Ralph DiGiorgio and Anthony Messina, according to a corporate filing with the secretary of state’s office.

The two men operate DiGiorgio & Messina Construction Co. of Middleton. They could not be reached for comment.

In Danvers, the new school will officially open in September. But the academic year probably will start before Labor Day, which is Sept. 1, O’Connell said.


“Those two or three days we go before Labor Day allows us to get our class meetings, assignment of lockers, and any scheduling snafus taken care of. Then, right after Labor Day, education begins, fast and furious,” he said.

The school will be organized into four career academies: animal and plant science; construction technology; life and natural sciences; and technology and services. Each academy will have 360 students, according to the merger outline.

After a freshman year spent rotating through various disciplines, students will then choose a career path. “They’ll spend three years in the same academy, with the same teachers, guidance counselors, and associate principals. It’s going to give them the feeling of a very small school.”

Academic space, from classrooms to three cafeterias, has been designed to be used for maximum use, O’Connell said.

“The space will be flexible, so that we can have classes or small group learning,” he said. “This is a 21st-century school.”

Kathy McCabe can be reached at katherine.mccabe@globe.com.