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Belmonte Middle School renovations gain focus

SAUGUS – Plans for the proposed renovation of the Belmonte Middle School are gaining focus and the most recent draft must be submitted to the state by today for tentative approval.Any renovations must first be sanctioned by Town Meeting and ultimately by the voters.The school was built in 1964 and has undergone few upgrades since. Enrollment has hovered near 800 students.According to Town Manager Andrew Bisignani, the school is in disrepair and continues to deteriorate.”It’s falling apart and not energy efficient,” he said, noting the structure lacks sufficient insulation because it is made primarily of concrete. “The roof needs to be replaced as does the electrical system. We installed a new heating system in 2010.”The renovation cost has been estimated at between $14 million and $18 million, of which 51.2 percent would be reimbursed by the state. “So we’re looking at a cost to the town of about $8 million or $9 million,” Bisignani said.”If we do nothing, the school will continue to deteriorate and we will be faced with public safety and health hazards,” the town manager said. “The roof leaks. The windows don’t hold in the heat. There is asbestos in the floor tiles and on some of the pipes. The building does not meet ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements. The heating and air conditioning systems need upgrades. The electrical system needs to be replaced. The building has no sprinkler system. The concrete walls have no thermal barrier. And there’s a flooding issue.”School Committee Chairman Wendy Reed said Town Meeting will be asked in June to authorize borrowing. If the request finds majority support, the proposed amount of the renovation would go before voters as a ballot question in November, she said.Bisignani emphasized any borrowing for the project would be handled as a debt exclusion and not 2? override. The difference is significant, he said, explaining a debt exclusion allows the town to exceed the restrictions imposed by Proposition 2?, but only for a specific project and time period.”In this case, it would be strictly for the school renovations and probably be a 20-year loan to pay for it. Once that’s paid for, it would come off the property tax bills. If it was a straight override, it would stay on the tax bills forever,” he said.Meanwhile, Bisignani has asked the town to pay for last winter’s outstanding $1.2 million snow removal costs by agreeing to a one-time special assessment on local property tax bills.The special assessment strategy resembles a debt-exclusion, but only relates to a single payment for the snow removal expenses and does not remain on property tax bills the following year.Reed said the Belmonte Middle School was purposefully built of concrete after the town suffered a spate of arson fires at its schools and other public buildings. As a result of the architectural style, the building has been described as having a prison-like exterior.Fletcher Thompson, the architectural firm hired to redesign the building, has proposed a more aesthetically pleasing white facade with sweeping windows and skylights to maximize natural light.”It’s really a beautiful building,” said Reed. “It was originally built as a junior high school for 1,400 students, so there’s plenty of room inside. It just needs the glass replaced on its windows and skylights. If you had to install those fixtures today, especially the skylights, it would cost far more.”Reed said state reimbursement dollars would arrive faster than they did when the town repaired the Veterans Elementary School. “We had to wait six years for the first reimbursement check to arrive,” she said. “Now we will get paid as we go, as the different stages of the project are completed.”The plans by Fletcher Thompson architects and other documentation from general contractor Skanska Corp. is expected to be reviewed by officials at the Massachusetts School Building Assistance (MSBA) state agency today.The current draft was the result of input from members of

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