BEVERLY — The City Council voted unanimously last night to kick-start the process to build a new middle school.
By a 9-0 vote at City Hall, councilors authorized the city to submit a "statement of interest" to the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the agency in charge of distributing state aid to communities for school building projects.
Councilors stressed that their vote does not commit the city to the project, which has been estimated at $40 million.
"All we're doing is giving you permission to submit a statement of interest," Councilor Pat Grimes said to Mayor Bill Scanlon. "We're not endorsing anything."
"There are no commitments whatsoever," Scanlon said. "It's absolutely nonbinding."
The city's plan calls for expanding and renovating the former Memorial Middle School on Cabot Street to replace the 88-year-old Briscoe Middle School that now houses nearly 1,000 students.
Construction would not begin until 2017, and the school would not open until 2019, Scanlon said.
The council's vote follows last week's unanimous School Committee vote in favor of submitting the statement of interest to the School Building Authority. Communities across Massachusetts have until Feb. 11 to submit a statement, the first step in the process of seeking state funding.
The School Committee and Superintendent Marie Galinski favor building a school to accommodate grades 5 through 8, a change from the current grade 6-to-8 configuration at Briscoe. A 5-to-8 school would increase the cost by 10 to 15 percent.
Council President Mike Cahill said last night's vote does not commit the city to moving fifth-graders into the new school.
"I look forward to having that dialogue continue with officials and with the community," Cahill said.
If Beverly is invited to apply for state aid based on the statement of interest, it would do so under a lower priority than the city used to secure aid for the $80 million high school that was completed last year.
The high school faced loss of accreditation due to the building's poor condition, which the MSBA considers a high priority. Scanlon said the middle school project would be based on the "obsolescence" of the current building, a category that is a "relatively low" seventh on the MSBA's list of priorities, Scanlon said.
"We had something going for us then (with the high school project) that we don't have now," he said.
Last night's meeting was the final one for four of the nine city councilors. Grimes, Judith Cronin and Kevin Hobin all chose not to run for re-election, while Cahill lost his race for mayor against Scanlon.
Councilor Paul Guanci and Scanlon both presented gifts to the outgoing councilors and praised their service to the city.
"We're losing four valuable colleagues," Guanci said. "There is some sadness among all of us. They will be missed."
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.