PEABODY — Plans to significantly revamp the William A. Welch Sr. Elementary School reached a significant milestone Thursday night as they secured local approvals to move forward.

“It’s just wonderful, and it has been a long time coming,” said School Committee Member Beverley Griffin Dunne.

During a special Aug. 26 meeting of the Welch School Building Committee, both the School Committee and the Building Committee voted unanimously to submit the completed schematic design for the project to the Massachusetts School Building Authority. The MSBA, according to Dunne, has guided the district through this large-scale renovation project, which is projected to cost nearly $30 million.

The Welch School, built in 1972, hasn’t had any significant renovations since its original construction, said Dunne, who is also the chairwoman of the building committee. The goal of the planned renovations, she said, is to extend the building's life by several decades.

Plans include the construction of a new entryway, the addition of several features that will make the property more accessible, the reconfiguration of the nurse’s office, an expansion of the library, the replacement of the buildings’ largely opaque windows, and the replacement of the building's air conditioning, ventilation, plumbing, heating and electrical systems, according to Dunne. Improving security, she said, is also a major goal of the project.

"When that building was built, I don't even think they had electric pencil sharpeners," she said. "Right now, every student needs a computer and the classrooms need computers, but there's only one plug in the classroom. You can't even plug in a box fan without using extension cords. It is so important to be able to update this building. It really is, and it will put us in good shape for the future students coming into Welch."

During the meeting, Dunne said the total estimated project budget is $29,973,821, and the MSBA will cover between 56% and 63% of eligible costs.

Construction on the building is expected to begin next summer. 

"We have gotten so much done this year," she said, explaining that the pandemic hasn't yet had any impact on the project's timeline. "The work being done now is absolutely all preparation work."

While the project is still forging ahead, Dunne said, the pandemic has given the project team a few extra things to consider. 

"People are learning new things throughout the pandemic, so there are design features that have come up as far as health and safety and hygiene — access to sinks and hand-washing," she explained. "The simple fact of improving the air flow system in the building is huge. That is a big factor right now."

The pandemic has also had a significant impact on the cost of construction materials, she said, but the project team is hoping prices drop before supplies have to be purchased.

"Oh my goodness, it will be amazing," Dunne said, audibly excited. "What is really interesting is this is a renovation of an existing building, but it is going to have so many features that will allow us to continue to utilize that building for the next 50 years." 

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