By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — Never was heard a discouraging word as the City Council gave a unanimous final vote approving a new $92.6 million middle school last night.
“I get very excited when I think of what we can have four years down the road,” said Mayor Ted Bettencourt, who has strongly endorsed the project while working carefully to garner both backing from Peabody residents and financing from the state. “I feel very fortunate,” he added, “to have a City Council that is supporting this municipal project.”
Thanks to the Massachusetts School Building Authority the city’s share is likely to be about $49 million. In addition, Peabody can expect to pay up to $36 million due as the cost of borrowing.
The old Higgins Middle School, built in 1964, will remain open during construction and then be demolished with sports fields designated for the site. Once the new structure is completed it would consist of two buildings, connected by walkways. One building will be three stories tall, housing a grade at each level.
School Committee member Beverley Griffin Dunne, the leader of the building committee, read a letter from Superintendent Joe Mastrocola, who was absent, attending his daughter’s graduation. He told the councilors, “Your legacy with this project will resound for years to come.”
Speaking for herself, Griffin Dunne predicted, “We’ll have the best public education that Peabody can provide.” She praised the council for its “attention to details” of the project.
Also absent on business, Councilor Dave Gravel sent a letter announcing his support. He praised Bettencourt’s work in attaining a maximum of state dollars.
Councilors and former school board members Jim Liacos and Mike Garabedian noted the ease with which this plan has proceeded and they contrasted it to difficult past campaigns of school advocates promoting building projects like the Brown and Carroll schools. Likewise, an effort to build a new high school more than a decade ago was short-circuited and replaced with a renovation plan.
“This one has come an awful lot easier,” said Liacos. “You couldn’t have done it a better way.”
“We went for two schools and it took years and years to get,” lamented Garabedian. “This time there’s a mayor that’s pro-education and a school committee that’s on the move.”
Prior to the meeting, Councilor Bob Driscoll noted that he hasn’t heard a word of protest about the plan from his constituents.
Officials anticipate a groundbreaking in June 2014. The new school would house 1,340 students in grades six to eight, roughly the same population as the current building.