State approves school grants for Newburyport, Georgetown, Melrose

The state’s school building program signed off on plans Wednesday for a new elementary school in Georgetown, renovation of a middle school in Newburyport, and new science labs at Melrose High School.

Residents in Newburyport already have approved funding for the $27 million project at the Rupert A. Nock Middle School. Georgetown residents will vote on the town’s share of the $46 million Penn Brook Elementary School  project at Town Meeting later this month, and if that plan is approved, there would be a townwide vote in the November election.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority also awarded Melrose High School a $3.1 million grant for science labs, and moved the J. Henry Higgins Middle School  in Peabody and the William McKinley Elementary School  in Revere into the final design phase.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

In June, Melrose was chosen along with nine other public high schools to receive funding under the MSBA’s Science Labratory Initiative, through which $60 million in federal stimulus money is being used to reimburse school districts with a percentage of the project’s cost. The Melrose grant will cover just under 50 percent of the total project budget of $6.5 million.

In Georgetown, the new elementary school would be located on the same site as the old school. Under the plans, Penn Brook would go from serving 440 students in second through fifth grade to housing 770 students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

As part of the board’s approval of the Penn Brook project, Georgetown Middle/High School was invited into the MSBA program for a feasibility study.

Town Administrator Michael Farrell said the MSBA wants to make sure that plans to move the sixth grade out of the middle/high school and into the new elementary school will eliminate overcrowding problems. He said the study will look at how the middle/high school will reuse the classroom space now being used by the sixth grade.

“It was a multiple school solution,’’ said Matthew Donovan, chief of staff for the building authority. “We looked at what we could do as a district approach rather than as a school approach.’’

Town Meeting will be held Oct. 29 for residents to vote on borrowing $25.6 million for its share of the elementary school, and spending $85,000 in reserves on the middle/high school feasibility study, Farrell said.

If Town Meeting supports both funding requests, residents must then approve the $25.6 million for the Penn Brook at the ballot box on Nov. 6, because it would require a debt exclusion, a property tax hike that continues for as long as it takes to pay off the loan.

The state would pay $20.3 million for the elementary school and about $46,000 for the feasibility study, Farrell said.

“The plans for this project are the direct result of a collaborative partnership forged by Georgetown officials and the MSBA,” said state Treasurer Steven Grossman, chairman of the Massachusetts School Building Authority. “We look forward to delivering an efficient, sustainable, and cost-effective facility that will maximize local and state taxpayer resources while providing a top-notch environment in which students can learn effectively.”

Also Wednesday, the state building authority approved renovations to the Nock Middle School in Newburyport, aided by a grant of up to $13.7 million. The project includes renovations to the major building systems including electrical, plumbing, roof, and windows.

Deirdre Farrell, Newburyport’s assistant superintendent, said residents already approved funding for the project at a debt exclusion vote in June. She said residents also supported spending $38.8 million to build a new Bresnahan Elementary School.  The MSBA approved the Bresnahan project earlier this year and will contribute $17.5 million toward that project.

Both projects are expected to start in March and be completed by the fall of 2014, Farrell said. “It’s an extremely wonderful opportunity for our school community and our community at large,’’ she said.

The building authority Wednesday also paved the way for the McKinley School in Revere and the Higgins Middle School in Peabody to move to the schematic design stage, where officials will set the scope, budget, and schedule for the projects. It is the last stage before funding approval.

Officials said the McKinley project is necessary to ease overcrowding at the school, which currently houses some classrooms in trailers. The $41.7 million school would have 690 students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.

In Peabody, the Higgins school project, which Grossman described as a “huge, huge transformational project,’’ is expected to cost about $89 million and house 1,340 students.