The city recently took a major step toward starting construction of the planned new Higgins Middle School when it received “prequalification statements” from five companies seeking to serve as general contractor and 91 seeking to serve as subcontractors in 16 different trades. “The number of prequalification statements we received is a good indication that Peabody is viewed as a strong partner by those in construction trades,” Mayor Ted Bettencourt said in a statement. “We look forward to the formal bid process and to getting shovels in the ground this spring.” Prequalification statements are used by municipalities to determine which companies are eligible to submit prices for formal bids. Construction bids for the Peabody project are scheduled to be received by the city in May. The planned $92.6 million middle school is designed to serve 1,340 students in the sixth through eighth grades. The 221,518-square-foot building will replace the existing Higgins School, which was built in 1966 . The Massachusetts School Building Authority has agreed to reimburse the city for 56.16 percent of eligible costs, or up to $43.68 million.