, Salem, MA

April 6, 2013

Peabody gets in line for funding for elementary school repairs

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — PEABODY — Plan ahead.

That’s the policy behind the city’s new request for state aid to make improvements at the Welch, Burke and Center elementary schools. These come even as Peabody won state funds earlier this week for construction of a new, $83-million Higgins Middle School.

The latest requests are “statements of interest” being made to get on the list for funding, Mayor Ted Bettencourt said, with any real activity slated for years down the line. The City Council approved the plan to make these requests to the Massachusetts School Building Authority at their last meeting.

“We need to take care of the buildings,” Council President Tom Gould said.

Getting state approval is vital, as the state pays a large portion of approved school building requests. For example, they’ve agreed to finance more than 50 percent of the Higgins project.

Superintendent Joe Mastrocola notes that taking care of buildings early on eliminates more expensive problems down the line.

Given the long period required before work can start, there aren’t a lot of specifics involved in this new request.

“It’s a ticket to get into the theater,” the superintendent said. “But we don’t know what we’re going to see yet.”

Schools across the state vie for this funding; Salem’s city council just approved a similar request for funding to complete renovations to the high school.

“This is the first step in getting our projects into the competition,” Mastrocola said.

In his letter to the council, Bettencourt mentions “replacement of the Center School,” but Mastrocola downplays that possibility, stressing that in the case of each school, he expects it’s a matter of “replacement pieces.”

For example, the mayor’s letter notes the need for “green” changes at Welch and Burke. Welch might convert from oil to less expensive and more environmentally friendly gas heat, while windows and doors would be upgraded, thereby saving energy. At Burke, upgrading and modernizing the heating, ventilation and air conditioning is suggested.

In the case of Center School, the mayor cites the need for gym space, cafeteria space, food service and kitchen space, upgrades to classroom, meeting rooms, electrical plumbing and HVAC systems.

Mastrocola expects it will take up to six years before some of these projects come to fruition.

“At this time,” he said, “our focus is on the Higgins. ... What we need to do more than anything is to have a good project.”

Among other things, that would inspire public confidence in the administration’s ability to maintain its properties, he said.