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February 14, 2013

Plan for new middle school goes to state

PEABODY — It’s time to show Beacon Hill why Peabody wants the money.

The School Committee voted unanimously on Tuesday to send the conceptual design for the new middle school to the Massachusetts School Building Authority today.

“There wasn’t much discussion,” said School Committee member Jarrod Hochman, citing the lack of any opposition to the project.

“The vote had to take place (on Tuesday),” said colleague Beverley Ann Griffin Dunne, chairwoman of the School Building Committee. “The projected budget and the schematic drawings needed to be turned in to the MSBA on Valentine’s Day.”

The city is hoping to get some prompt love back from the state in the form of up to 59 percent of the $83 million cost of the project. Once the state approves the plans, the architectural firm of DiNisco Design will get the go-ahead to produce detailed blueprints.

The building is expected to accommodate 1,340 kids in grades six, seven and eight. The structure will replace the adjacent 50-year-old Higgins Middle School, which will continue to operate until the new school’s planned opening in the fall of 2016. Eventually, it will be razed to the ground and sports fields put in its place.

Up to now, Griffin Dunne said, the process is right on schedule. “We’re doing very well.”

Once the blueprints are done, the School Committee anticipates one more vote on the project before it goes to the City Council for approval. That will happen with the enthusiastic support of Mayor Ted Bettencourt, who has made construction of the school a key goal of his administration.

Among residents, Griffin Dunne said, she’s encountered virtually no opposition to the plan, despite its cost.

“I’ve received overwhelming support for this from neighbors, friends and constituents,” Hochman said. “I think it’s going to be a great thing for the city. ... It’s going to draw people to the city. It’s going to draw businesses here.” That, he said, makes it a positive even for those who have no children in the schools.

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