SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

September 27, 2013

Mayor: State to approve new middle school

BY PAUL LEIGHTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — BEVERLY — Hopes for a new middle school are about to become a reality, according to city and school officials.

Mayor Bill Scanlon and interim Superintendent Al Argenziano announced yesterday that the Massachusetts School Building Authority will vote next week to approve the city’s application for a new middle school.

Scanlon said MSBA officials became convinced of the need for a new school when they visited the deteriorating Briscoe Middle School last week.

“We’ve told them a story; they came out and looked and said, ‘You’re right,’” Scanlon said.

The city submitted a statement of interest to the MSBA in March seeking funding for a new school. The agency’s board of directors is scheduled to vote on the statement at its meeting in Boston on Wednesday.

A spokesman for the MSBA could not be reached for comment. Scanlon said he is “very confident” that the board will vote in Beverly’s favor.

The new school will be built at the site of the Memorial Building, a former middle school at 502 Cabot St. that closed in 2005 when the city moved all of its middle school students into the larger Briscoe building.

Scanlon said a feasibility study will determine whether the Memorial Building, which was built in 1954, will be knocked down and replaced with an entirely new building, or whether it will be updated and enlarged.

The city has estimated the cost of a new school at $73 million, with the city paying $33 million and the state paying $40 million. Scanlon said the exact cost and share percentage will be determined as the process goes along.

Officials are targeting September 2017 for opening the new school.

In its statement of interest to the MSBA, the city said Briscoe Middle School, which was built in 1923, has an outdated electrical system, an inoperative ventilation system, windows that do not open and no hot water in the restrooms.

The statement said the building is severely overcrowded, forcing special education classes to be held in former closets and teachers and administrators to hold meetings in hallways and the cafeteria. The school has 944 students.

Officials say the Memorial site is a better location for a new school because it has 17 acres, as opposed to six acres at Briscoe. Scanlon said the Briscoe building would likely be sold by the city after the new school is built.

The new middle school would be reconfigured to include grades five through eight, with fifth- and sixth-graders in one house and seventh- and eighth-graders in another house.

Fifth-graders are now in the city’s five elementary schools. Moving them to the middle school would open up more room in the those schools, which are also crowded, officials said.

Officials are also hoping to convert McKeown School, which closed as an elementary school in 2008, into an early childhood center for prekindergarten classes. The district currently holds four pre-K classes at the Memorial Building and four at North Shore Education Consortium on Sohier Road.

New uses for the Memorial Building and McKeown School would force the relocation of classes and offices now located there. The Memorial Building includes school and city offices, as well as North Shore Recovery High School. The McKeown School houses North Shore Education Consortium classes.

The city would lose about $600,000 in annual lease income, but School Committee President Maria Decker said the extra space would allow the district to keep more special education students in Beverly and cut down on expensive out-of-district tuitions.

Scanlon said the city can afford a new school because the loans for many of the elementary school renovations done from 1996 to 2003 are being paid off.

The city is currently paying $2.2 million per year in debt service for the new high school, which opened in 2010.

The City Council would need to vote to approve funding for a feasibility study, which Scanlon said could cost around $1 million. The state would also share that cost.

Scanlon, Argenziano and Decker made the announcement yesterday at a press conference at City Hall.

In a press release, Scanlon praised Decker’s work on the middle school project, calling her “the heart and soul of the School Committee.”

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.