PEABODY — The state's Designer Selection Panel has recommended DiNisco Design Partnership get the contract to design renovations to Higgins Middle School.

DiNisco is the Boston architectural firm that designed Peabody's new Thomas Carroll and Samuel Brown Elementary schools, which opened in 2003. It also designed the renovation and expansion of Holten Richmond Middle School in Danvers in 2006.

The firm was selected by a panel that included three representatives from Peabody and examined the qualifications, experience and references of the companies seeking the design contract. The creation of the Designer Selection Panel, part of the Massachusetts School Building Authority, was a major reform of the school building construction process. The panel selects designers for schools seeking funding from the state and whose construction costs will be $5 million or more.

The panel gave DiNisco its top ranking; Mount Vernon Group Architects was ranked second, and Kaestle Boos Associates was third.

Mayor Michael Bonfanti has said the city will spend about $600,000 to design the renovations, and the state will reimburse 53 percent of the cost.

The entire project cost was estimated at $35 million in 2009. It will include replacing the heating system, windows, roof work and possibly more. The middle school, built in 1961, is the largest in the state and has 1,400 students. It was last renovated in 2000.

The next step is for the architect to work with project manager Daedalus Projects to produce a feasibility study, which will include a preliminary design and a budget for the project.

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