SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 6, 2012

Plans: Megavoke will be on time and on budget

Endangered sparrow nearby won't be disturbed

By Jesse Roman
Staff writer

DANVERS — The planned Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical High School will be built on time and on budget, School Committee members and the superintendents said Wednesday.

"The overall picture is looking very good at the moment," said Leonard Bonfanti, the Peabody representative on the School Committee for the newly formed district that combines Essex Aggie, North Shore Tech and Peabody High School's vocational programs.

The $133.77 million megavoke will break ground April 16 when construction crews start moving earth and preparing the site for the massive building. Bids for steel, concrete and other materials will go out soon, and full-fledged construction should be under way by June.

"There will be a lot of activity going on at the site in the very near future," Bonfanti said. "I think we're ahead of schedule at this point."

Architects have been working with engineers and a building committee for more than a year and are now in the final phase of design. That involves tweaking elements of the building design in order to bring costs in line with the budget. The pitch of the roof, the number of lampposts out front and other cosmetic details have recently been reconsidered, said Roger Bourgeois, superintendent of Essex Aggie.

"The architect was hired to design to the budget, and in doing that, we take a look at all the possibilities. As the process evolves, we have to make choices like how many lights we need around the roadway," Bourgeois said. "Those are the types of things we're looking at. We're not looking at scaling back at all the educational value of the building."

A ceremonial ground breaking is scheduled for the first week in May, and the project is on track to be completed by September 2014.

The project escaped what could have been a major speed bump when an environmental review indicated an endangered species of sparrow — the vesper sparrow — was living in wetlands next to the building site. Upon review, however, state wildlife officials decided late last month that the project wouldn't interfere with the sparrow's habitat and gave its blessing to continue.

"It was one of those little things we had to resolve," said Daniel O'Connell, the North Shore Tech superintendent.

The new vocational school, to be built on the north side of Route 62 in Danvers, is projected to house 1,440 students from 17 communities. Some of the buildings at Essex Aggie will be reused; many will be demolished. North Shore Tech's building in Middleton will be sold; officials are expecting to get about $4 million for it.

The state is paying $98.6 million of the project's $133.77 million price tag. After the sale of North Shore Tech, that leaves just over $31 million left for the participating cities and towns to fund. Each will pay a share of that cost based on the percentage of students from the community enrolled in the new megavoke.

Peabody, for example, which is estimated to account for 22.8 percent of the new school's enrollment, will pay for 22.8 percent of the costs. Topsfield will only pay about 0.7 percent of the cost. Those percentages will fluctuate each year based on enrollment.

The other cities and towns signed on to the project are Salem, Beverly, Danvers, Hamilton, Wenham, Marblehead, Swampscott, Boxford, Middleton, Manchester, Essex, Gloucester, Rockport, Lynnfield and Nahant.