BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — The city is preparing to take a $1.5 million step on the road to a new middle school.
Mayor Bill Scanlon has asked the City Council to approve borrowing $1.5 million to conduct a feasibility study and produce a conceptual design of the new school.
Both steps are required by the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the state agency that has accepted the city’s application for a new middle school and would help pay for it.
The City Council has set a public hearing for Dec. 16 at City Hall to discuss Scanlon’s request to borrow the money.
The city is planning to build a new school at the site of the former Memorial Middle School on Cabot Street. But MSBA rules require the city to conduct a feasibility study that considers various alternatives.
Scanlon said the study will look at the possibility of building on the site of the current Briscoe Middle School, but he said “that one will quickly be put to the side.”
“They’ll take an incredibly quick look at the current Briscoe location and say it’s really not big enough,” Scanlon said. “And if you were to tear it down, what would you do with the children (while the new school is being built)?”
The Memorial site has 17 acres, while Briscoe has 6 acres.
The study will also consider whether to renovate and expand Memorial, which was built in 1954, or knock it down and build a new building.
“Over the course of time, sentiment seems to have shifted more toward that latter choice,” Scanlon said.
One of the biggest questions the study will consider is whether to include fifth-graders in the new middle school. Officials have floated the idea of making the middle school grades five through eight, with fifth- and sixth-graders grouped in one wing and seventh- and eighth-graders in another wing.
Scanlon said moving fifth-graders to the middle school would free up space in the city’s five crowded elementary schools, which are currently kindergarten through fifth grade.
The city is forming a School Building Committee of volunteers to help with the planning of the new school, including the question of where to put fifth-graders. Scanlon said the School Committee, Mayor-elect Mike Cahill and members of the community will all be involved in the decision-making process.
“The community will be involved, because there is this basic question of whether it’s going to be a four-year school or a three-year school,” Scanlon said.
Both Scanlon and School Committee President Maria Decker, who teamed up to write the statement of interest that was accepted by the MSBA, will be out of office in a month. Scanlon is retiring; Decker lost her re-election bid.
Scanlon said it could take a year to 18 months to do the feasibility study and conceptual design. The city is hoping to have the new school ready for September 2017.
Officials say a new school is needed to replace Briscoe, a 1923 building that is in poor condition and overcrowded.
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.
The state paid 58.4 percent of the cost of the $81 million high school that opened in 2010.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.