By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — So far so good.
That seemed to be the reaction last night of residents near the proposed construction of a new Higgins Middle School after hearing a summary of the construction process and plans for traffic at the new building.
”You guys will be impacted the most,” said Mayor Ted Bettencourt as steps meant to minimize that impact were outlined. He also noted, “This is the biggest project we’ve ever done as a city.”
The concerns raised by neighbors centered on the possibility that school traffic would snarl surrounding streets. They worry that parents would crowd alternate routes, like James Street, to let kids off, allowing them to hike past trees into the school yard.
Officials, including Peabody police Capt. Joseph Berardino, pointed to the fact that the new site will have much more roadway than the current school, allowing smoother movement and preventing backups onto nearby streets.
“We’ll work on that,” he added.
Richard Marks of Daedalus Projects outlined a project lasting three years, with a September 2016 opening. During construction, “the entire site will be fenced in,” Marks said, with work carefully isolated from the current, functioning school. Further, pains will be taken to limit worker traffic, which includes trucks carrying concrete and steel, during periods when school traffic is at its height.
Residents seemed resigned to what was described as minimal blasting.
“We’ve raised the school up 21/2 (feet), just to stay away from the rock,” Marks said.
Marks said the construction site will produce “very little noise in the neighborhood.” Work will be limited to 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., except on the rare occasion when concrete is poured. That process must be completed all at once for the material to set properly.
Work on Saturday will be rare and no work done on Sundays.
After construction, the current building will be demolished and its site converted into ballfields. No kids will be allowed near the site when the building is taken down, due to small amounts of hazardous materials, Marks said.
By 2017, he concluded, “The pain ends.”
The new school population will shrink as some students transfer to the new vocational school, he said.
Kenneth DiNisco of DiNisco Design said that landscaping will send water to retention ponds away from residents.
“If there is something we are missing or a concern you have, we want to hear about it,” DiNisco said.
”This was really good,” resident Rosemary Bevins told the gathering. She applauded a diagram of traffic movements shown on a big screen. After the meeting, she said, “I’m happy with what was presented today. I feel a lot better now.”
”I was very pleased with how the meeting went,” said Bettencourt.
Another meeting will be held next year, after construction begins.