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City Council OKs $92.6M Bond to Build New Middle School

Council authorizes city to borrow up to the full amount for construction of the new Higgins Middle School. City officials say only about $50 million will actually be borrowed, but the MSBA requires the full amount to be authorized.

[Editor's Note: This article has been updated to reflect a correction. The correct total amount of the bond for Higgins Middle School is $92.6 million.]

The City Council unanimously voted to borrow $92.6 million on Thursday to build the new Higgins Middle School.

With the local funding agreement in place, the project team can return to the Mass. School Building Authority for permission to begin the next phase of the project.

That phase includes still more detailed designs and several months worth of documentation in preparation to put the project out for bid to general contractors. The goal is to break ground in June 2014.

Mayor Ted Bettencourt and other local officials appeared before the council's Finance Committee three weeks ago to lay out the plan and said the city will only spend about $50 million, but the MSBA requires the full amount to be authorized. The MSBA is paying up to $43.7 million for the project.

The council subsequently agreed to advertise the bond for a public hearing and councilors tooks their final votes on the request on May 23.

Superintendent Joe Mastrocola was unable to attend Thursday's meeting because he was attending his daughter’s college graduation out of state, but submitted a letter of support in which he said the Higgins project will provide for the next generation of Peabody students and he and other local officials have fought hard to justify taxpayers' dollars on the new school.

Higgins School Building Committee Chair Beverley Griffin Dunne also added a few words of thanks to the council and again assured members the project was the right move for Peabody.

Councilor-at-Large Jim Liacos, who spent 20 years on the School Committee, said he was pleased to see the project move forward so smoothly and also praised the plan to build the new school first before knocking down the old one. 

"This project has come an awful lot easier than some others," Liacos said, reflecting on the construction of two new elementary schools that lingered over two mayoral administrations. An effort to build a new high school also never came to fruition during that time. "You couldn’t have done this a better way... My hat is off to all of you."

Councilor-at-Large Mike Garabedian, who served alongside Liacos on the committee, echoed those sentiments. "Now we have a mayor [who's] pro-education and a School Committee that’s on the move," he said.

Councilor-at-Large Dave Gravel, another former School Committee member, was absent from Thursday's hearing due to business travel, but sent a letter of support in his stead in which he said he was confident the school would be built on time and on budget.

One thing to note about the latest design is that the building will actually be slightly skewed -- project architect Ken DiNisco explained that the front portion of the new school would be at a slight angle to take advantage of better footings for the foundation.

Steve May 25, 2013 at 06:31 PM
This boondoggle will eventually cost at least 150 million. Get ready for your real estate taxes to continue to escalate ... Instead of only rising 'a cup of coffee a day' as the last mayor had the gaul to say when he raised taxes, this will cause them to rise 'a steak dinner a day'. And what will we get? A school we don't need that will probably fall apart within a couple of decades and more clogged roads that are unable to sustain all the traffic.
Kathleen May 27, 2013 at 02:42 AM
I disagree Steve, we needed this school about 10 years ago. My kids went through the Higgins and although it is very well run, the facility is a disgrace. Problem is that Peabody has always missed the boat on education. This school could have been rebuilt or even renovated for a lot less money 5 - 10 years ago. While many of our neighboring towns were either building new schools or renovating old ones, Peabody sat around doing nothing, for fear of raising taxes. For instance, Salem High underwent a $67 million renovation back in 2006-2008 at a reimbursement rate of 90%! The town of Ipswich built a brand new middle/high school complex back in 2001 for a total cost of under $28 million. Lynnfield built a beautiful new middle school in 2003 for a cost of only $17.8 million. Natick built a beautiful middle school (using the same architect as Lynnfield) for only $21 million in 2003. All of these cities/towns have excellent school systems. You get what you pay for. Peabody needs to improve it's school system and hopefully building a new middle school is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, we will now have to pay the piper for waiting too long. Even though my kids won't see the benefit, I am more than willing to pay for it. Our kids deserve it and our property values will benefit from having first class schools.
Lisa May 31, 2013 at 04:02 AM
Steve when is the last time you set foot in the Higgins?
Lisa May 31, 2013 at 04:04 AM
I agree I have 2 at the Higgins and won't get use of the new school but we really are behind everyone else, now we can try to catch up.

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