SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 13, 2013

Competing for state cash

State treasurer tours Briscoe; city seeks money for new building

BY PAUL LEIGHTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — BEVERLY — State Treasurer Steven Grossman said yesterday that he will work with the city on its plan to build a new middle school, but he fell short of committing state money to the project.

“I’m going to be taking a particular interest in this project,” Grossman told city and school officials during a tour of Briscoe Middle School. “We will look at every option.”

Grossman visited Briscoe at the invitation of Mayor Bill Scanlon and School Committee President Maria Decker, who are in the process of writing a second “statement of interest” to the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which Grossman chairs.

The city is in competition with hundreds of other communities who annually seek state money for school building projects. Beverly applied last year but was told by the Building Authority to reapply this year.

Officials are hoping to build a new middle school to replace Briscoe, a nearly century-old building they say is too old and crowded to meet the modern-day needs of students.

The new school would be built at the site of the former Memorial Middle School, which the city closed in 2005 to save money, and would cost an estimated $40 million.

Assistant Principal Terry Conant led a tour of the school for Grossman, Scanlon, Decker, state Rep. Jerry Parisella and Superintendent Marie Galinski. The three-story building was built in 1923 as the city’s high school. It now houses 925 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.

Conant took Grossman to the basement, where a former print shop is now a computer lab. Conant said he used to teach in the room and would have to pull the computers away from the leaking windows during heavy rain or ice-melting.

In the gymnasium, a divider cuts the space in half to accommodate a fitness room. Conant said the half-gym sometimes has to fit up to 30 students.

Throughout the rest of the building, Grossman got a look at what Conant called “our one and only” conference room; special education classes tucked away in small, makeshift classrooms; and a science lab inside a former wood shop whose equipment is stored in an old fallout shelter.

In the auditorium, a grand space modeled after Symphony Hall in Boston, Scanlon pointed out the water stains on the ceiling caused by leaks.

Grossman, a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Business School who is considering a run for governor, chatted easily with teachers on a variety of subjects, from the Middle Ages to French literature. He praised the school staff on everything from their teaching methods to the cleanliness of the cafeteria floor.

“When you come into a school like this and see how everybody is trying to make things work, it’s impressive,” he said.

Scanlon told Grossman that the city needs state assistance for a new school because residents wouldn’t vote for a Proposition 21/2 tax hike. With a new high school and renovations to all of the elementary schools, the middle school would be the last of the city’s major school building projects, Scanlon said.

Scanlon said the city would like to open the new middle school in September 2017. The plan is for the school to include grades five through eight.

Grossman said he will work with the city through the process of applying for assistance, which includes first submitting the statement of interest, then conducting a feasibility study.

“I’m excited about this project’s potential,” Grossman told the group. “I’m excited to be a partner every step of the way through whatever decision you make with us.”

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.