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EASTON

Voke school aims at $30m renovation

By Michele Morgan Bolton
Globe Correspondent / March 13, 2011

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Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical High School in Easton is on the brink of a long-coveted facelift that would bring the aging, 45-year-old facility up to date and up to code.

Included in the $30 million renovation plan are a new gym, new roof, new windows, a modern water sprinkler system, six science labs, and other added spaces to alleviate overcrowding in the school built in 1965.

That’s great news, said school Superintendent Lou Lopes, who with the regional school committee has been working with the Massachusetts School Building Authority on a plan since at least 2007.

What’s better, he said, is that the state agency will reimburse up to 80 percent of the total renovation and expansion cost, with the school picking up the rest of the tab. That means there will be no need for the school’s nine member communities — Brockton, East and West Bridgewater, Easton, Foxborough, Mansfield, Norton, Sharon, and Stoughton — to pay anything other than their annual assessments.

The improvements can’t come soon enough for Lopes, who said he has long set his sights on being able to stay on the cutting edge and provide as many opportunities as possible to the students to help them launch good careers.

“Our goal is to offer programs that are not only of high quality but also in high demand,’’ he said. “For example, we are looking at biotechnology. We know that is a buzz word, but we are taking a hard look at where the employers are.’’

But that kind of program, as just one example, he said, would be nearly impossible without adequate science facilities.

The next meeting of the state school building agency’s board of directors is on March 30. Emily Mahlman, spokeswoman for the agency, said it’s possible that final approvals of Southeastern’s schematic designs could be discussed and/or granted at that time.

Meanwhile, the school is holding a series of public meetings to disseminate information on the construction effort. Meetings are scheduled for tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., Wednesday at 9:30 a.m., and March 21 at 6:30 p.m.

Members of the regional school committee have already picked the project apart, whittling $7 million off the total cost through value engineering, Lopes said.

“The conversation was like, ‘Do you really need brick here? or, ‘Can we narrow this by two feet?’ ’’ Lopes said. “When communities don’t have the money and things are tight, you have to tighten the belt.’’

Such attention to detail and the commitment to remaining within its means allows the school district to cover the remaining cost, Lopes said.

School officials will look to an available $392,000 a year from a budgeted capital maintenance account, assessments, and proceeds from evening classes to pay off the remaining project cost through a 25-year loan, he said.

Southeastern officials will also use a contractor who is paid to deliver the project at a guaranteed price, to cut down on change orders and other expenses.

Southeastern offers 21 career majors, from transportation and metalworking to health and public service, and visual and performing arts.

Because of space constraints, though, the school can only accept about 300 students out of the 600 who apply every year for a seat in the freshman class, Lopes said.

There are currently no science labs, and students are split among six lunch periods to get everyone served in an undersized cafeteria, Lopes added.

When the construction is complete, Lopes said he hopes to be able to accept 360 students a year.

Lopes credited the school building authority not just for the amount of reimbursement it is prepared to give, but also for assistance walking school officials through the expansion process.

“I’m very hopeful, too, because this is an opportunity to do what is needed without raising taxes,’’ he said.

While the improvements will make the school legally compliant, with upgrades from elevators to door knobs, school officials also plan to transform the current cafeteria into a student commons area with a food court. The “gym and a half,’’ which does not meet height standards for athletics, will become a media center.

Eventually, Lopes said officials hope to increase enrollment from a current figure of about 1,257 students to 1,360 students.

Kris Fuentes Cortes, 18, a senior, said she chose the school after moving from the tiny Holbrook school district to Brockton, whose enormous high school she found overwhelming.

Four years at Southeastern specializing in health services have provided her with practical experience tending to patients as well as the academic foundation she needs to move on in medicine, she said.

“This school changed my life,’’ said Fuentes Cortes, who says she has also enjoyed playing varsity softball and volleyball.

How does she feel about the planned improvements?

“What? They decide to do this when we leave?’’

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at mmbolton1@verizon.net.