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Beverly School Committee to vote tonight on sending middle school funding request to MSBA

Posted by Justin Rice  December 13, 2011 11:08 PM

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The Beverly School Committee is expected to pass a measure tonight that would advance the process of a renovating one of two middle school buildings in town.

The committee’s Vice President, Maria T. Decker, said yesterday that she expects the committee to vote in favor of submitting a "statement of interest" to the Massachusetts School Building Authority before the deadline (Jan. 11) to solicit state funding for school building capitol projects.  

Beverly sorely needs an updated middle school, she said. The Briscoe Middle School was built on a six acre plot in the 1920s and is decrepit and outdated. The Memorial Middle School, which currently houses the district’s central officers and rents space to the North Shore Recovery High School, was built in the 1950s or 1960s on 17 acres.

“Any city town or district, the first thing they need to do is submit a statement of interest to us before they submit what their needs might be,” Massachusetts School Building Authority Chief of Staff Matthew Donovan said during a telephone interview on Monday. “So they submit a problem and then we work with them and come up with a solution."

Decker said while the documents they send to the MSBA will not specify which building they would rather update, she said last year the district’s strategic planning process identified renovating the Memorial Building as the ideal solution. That plan could also including housing fifth through eighth grades in the renovated Memorial Building rather than the sixth through eighth that the Briscoe currently holds.
 
“That’s something we’ll have a conversation about [with the MSBA],” she said. “What we’re really doing is inefficient with what we have at the Briscoe. The solution we come to with the MSBA, we’re hoping, will lead to something [at the Memorial Building] but again we don’t have wish list on that.

“[The strategic plan] is a separate, parallel conversation.”

Donovan said the process of asking for state funding for school buildings has changed significantly since Beverly started planning its new high school. The quasi-independent government authority was created by the Legislature in 2004 to replace the former school building assistance program administered by the Department of Education (now the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education).

The former program accumulated more than $11 billion in debt.

“The main thing is we agree on project scope and budget with the city or town so everyone knows what is paid for and reimbursed and what’s eligible up front,” Donovan said.

But Decker noted that Beverly has a reputation for finishing projects on time and under budget.

“Our situation is unique in that we have another building that could be renovated and it’s much better locations; it’s on 17 acres and is a more modern facility with a full size auditorium,” she said. “I’m not sure the MSBA has encountered anything like [our situation] before.

“We have a potential answer. We’re not going to push for anything and hope for mutual agreement.”

Decker said the city council will vote Monday on whether or not to send the document to the MSBA. Decker also said she expects the city council to pass the measure as well.

“We’ve talked about this with the strategic planning sub group, it was presented to the school committee in February and June,” she said. “The community is well aware of it. I think across the entire city there’s universal agreement that we need a newly renovated middle school.”

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

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