21 Aug 2014
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Decision Possible Next Week on Future of Higgins School

School Building Committee will decide whether to renovate or build new school.

Decision Possible Next Week on Future of Higgins School

A decision may finally be coming next week from the School Building Committee on whether or not Peabody will .

The committee is currently faced with three foreseeable options: gut the original 47-year-old building and renovate, construct a new customized school or build a new model school. Model schools have been promoted by the Mass. School Building Authority as cost-effective and easy-to-maintain ways to build state-of-the-art schools with successful designs from other building projects.

Preliminary estimates by project architects say Peabody would pick up about $33 million on a full renovation with addition, $40 million for a new customized school and about $36 million for a model school.

Mayor Ted Bettencourt, who favors building a new school given the relatively close costs, said this week that the building committee would meet with the MSBA on Monday morning to review available options one more time before taking the aforementioned vote.

The group is then scheduled to meet Thursday afternoon at the . The committee was supposed to meet this week, but postponed the session until March 8 in order to meet with the MSBA first.

Bettencourt says the group will hopefully be ready to vote then. Even though it is unlikely the group will buck the mayor’s stance on the project, the final decision does remain with the School Building Committee.

Worth noting is that Peabody would only get a look at a specific model school design once it entered the program, and the Higgins is the largest middle school in the state. Three nearby districts have participated in the model school program for their middle schools: Lynnfield, Ipswich and Manchester-Essex (the last two, however, built combined grades 6-12 schools in recent years).

Should the vote be for a new model school, a three-story structure, using less square footage and footprint space than the existing structure, would be built on ball fields adjacent to the Higgins. One obvious advantage would be that students could remain in the Higgins until the new school was finished in 2015.

After that vote, a joint session of the regular School Committee and City Council will be held on the project, which will largely be informational, although at some point a proposal would come back for funding. The project is also subject to the final approval of the MSBA.

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