There's been plenty of money spent on renovations over the years, but it's been a long time since Peabody has invested in new facilities for its middle and high school students. That's about to change.
A new regional facility for students enrolled in the vocational programs is scheduled to open in Danvers in the fall of 2014. If all goes as planned, the city will open a new middle school the following year.
State Treasurer Steve Grossman, who oversees the state School Building Authority, said during a visit to Peabody on Friday that replacing Higgins Middle School is one of his priorities. And during a meeting later in the morning with The Salem News, he was equally emphatic about his support for the project and his belief that building a new school — as opposed to fixing the existing one — makes the most sense.
"I have a sense of urgency about the Higgins project," Grossman told the News. And that feeling is matched by the Bettencourt administration, school officials and parents who for too long have had to cope with a building that's deteriorating and wholly inadequate to the task of educating students in the 21st century.
Higgins, built almost a half-century ago, was one of two schools (the other being the Kennedy in West Peabody) meant to house students in the years between grade school and high school. The tired structure needs to be replaced, and, as Grossman points out, while the renovation option will be explored, it likely makes most sense to build a new middle school next to the existing one.
This tack would spare the city the problem of relocating students during the construction process. And, as Grossman notes, building new would probably not cost that much more than the kind of wholesale renovation required to turn the existing structure into a modern learning environment.
"We should all get on the train to build a new campus because our kids deserve it," Senate Majority Leader Fred Berry, D-Peabody, declared during a tour of Higgins on Friday morning. Indeed, that tack appears to have the support of everyone, including Mayor Ted Bettencourt and the School Committee.
The process of deciding on a course of action gets under way in earnest today when the building committee meets to decide on a preferred option. Grossman said he looks forward to the city making its case before the SBA in July so actual construction can begin as soon thereafter as possible.