It has been 14 years in the making for both institutions, but Essex Agricultural High School and North Shore Technical High School are getting new facilities.
The ground-breaking ceremony for construction of the new Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical High School - the merger between Essex Aggie and North Shore Tech that was approved two years ago - took place behind the current Essex Aggie site on the Danvers/Middleton line on Wednesday. The new school is expected to open in September 2014 and will serve 1,440 students from 17 communities.
"We're off and running," Danvers Town Manager Wayne Marquis said in an interview this morning.
It was 1998 when Essex Aggie and North Shore Tech first looked into constructing new campuses before the idea to merge came about, and Peabody - which has a technical program within its high school - jumped on board once the idea was on the table.
With Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray and Senate Majority Leader Fred Berry in attendance Wednesday, the first dirt was lifted on the $133.7 million project.
"Yesterday was a great day for those of us who have been involved in this project for 14 years," Marquis said. "A lot of credit was due to the governor, the legislature, Senator Berry leading the way in the legislature, and to the communites, because in order to go forward this project required a vote in every one of the 17 communities...but they all approved it."
The new facility will divide the 22 career programs into four academies within the schools 300,000-plus square foot campus, each complete with its own associate principal, guidance counselors, adjustment counselors and other staff. The agricultural program will have enrollment slots for 550 students. Students outside of the district will be allowed to enroll in agricultural classes only.
Berry lead the charge to secure state funding, of which the project is receiving $77.5 million from the Massachusetts School Building Authority and $21.1 million from the Executive Office of Administration and Finance, leaving the remaining $35.2 million to be paid by the communities based on enrollment.
A school committee made up of representatives of the 17 communities is overseeing everything.
"We're on budget and we're on time as of now," said Dan O'Connell, the superintendent-director of North Shore Tech. "But it's been a great challenge."
According to O'Connell, early bid packages for steel, concrete and excavation are already complete. Last Friday the 90 percent complete plans were submitted to the School Building Authority for approval, and once approved O'Connell will present them to the communities involved.
"We're moving fast and forward," O'Connell said.