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Peabody officials could vote on Higgins School next week

Posted by Justin Rice  February 28, 2012 10:56 AM

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Peabody officials could vote as early as next Thursday on whether or not to build a new middle school or to renovate the existing Higgins Middle School.

The Higgins School Building Committee will meet at 4:30 p.m. next Thursday at the the Kiley School to discuss and possibly vote on the fate of the 47-year-old building.  

“They will vote either at that meeting or the following meeting,” Mayor Edward A. “Ted” Bettencourt, Jr. said yesterday during a telephone interview. “In one of the next two meetings they will vote what direction we’re going, either with a new school or a renovation.

“I’ve been advocating for a new school.”

The meeting was originally scheduled for this Thursday but was later moved to next Thursday because Peabody officials will meet with officials from the Massachusetts School Building Authority on Monday to discuss the project’s procedure and timeline.

“The MSBA has a lot of specific requirements, so we need to find out the next step for Peabody through this process,” Peabody School Committee member Beverly Ann Griffin Dunne said during a telephone interview this morning. “We want to stay on track, we want to be able to get this going sooner rather than later. The bond market is very good right now. There are a lot of good reasons to proceed with this decision, whatever it is, very soon.

“And there are some very stringent timelines with the MSBA. That’s what we’ll be checking on.”

After the Higgins committee votes the issue would then go before joint meeting of the city council and school committee for a vote.

“At that joint meeting we will be able to present the plan,” Griffin Dunne said.  

In December, architects presented a plan to the school committee that projected the cost of building an entirely new middle school at $82.5 million, with the city on the hook for about $36 million of that. The School Building Authority would pick up the remainder of the tab.

The three-story school would be built on the school’s current athletic fields and would feature a new library, cafeteria and auditorium.  

A new building, which could be completed as early as 2015, would also prevent the district from having to create a sixth-grade academy at the Kiley School.

Gutting and renovating the current school could cost as much as $75.5 million, with the city paying for about $33 million of the bill.  Under that scenario the district would need another $2 million to renovate the Kiley School and relocate students and move the central offices. The renovation would create three wings for each grade, two of which would get a new floor.

“I’m disappointed [the meeting was moved] but looking forward to next week when we’ll have a lot more information,” Griffin Dunne said.


Justin A. Rice can be reached at jrice.globe@gmail.com.

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