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Saugus OKs Belmonte borrowing

SAUGUS – Town Meeting members Monday voted unanimously to support borrowing approximately $19 million for major renovations to the Belmonte Middle School.Discussion on Article 4 in the 25-article warrant sought borrowing authorization for the project. Town Manager Andrew Bisignani said a previously sanctioned $350,000 feasibility study gave direction to the renovation plans.The overall estimated cost of the project is $18,937,633. The state would contribute 51 percent, or an estimated $9,398,568. The total cost to the town would be $9,539,065.Bisignani said the $9 million expenditure is significantly less than the approximately $45 million to $50 million to build a new school similar in size to the Belmonte Middle School.”We must authorize the entire amount and apply for reimbursement,” he said, explaining the bidding process would likely begin in winter or spring 2012. “This is a very important project for the town and the School Department.”The state’s offer of a 51 percent reimbursement might not be made again for another decade, he said, urging Town Meeting members to accept it. The projected impact on local tax bills would not be felt until 2015 or 2016, he said.Daniel Tavares, senior project manager at Skanska USA, told Town Meeting the building needs a new exterior skin with an insulation layer to make it more energy efficient; updated air conditioning; a sprinkler system; fire alarms; new plumbing and electrical; a generator; thermal windows and asbestos removal. New technology has placed greater demands on school electrical systems, he said.Tavares emphasized the work includes no additions or wings to the building. The renovation would result in a long-term payback, he said. The school was built of concrete in 1964.Town Meeting member Debra Panetta asked about a line item in the conceptual contract that covers cost increases. Tavares explained 3 percent is a standard project for cost escalation.The project is complicated because the 800-student school will remain in session during construction. As a result, the gymnasium and other larger spaces will be temporarily partitioned into classrooms. The construction schedule will require working nights and weekends.Town Meeting member George Moriello asked if the heating system was converted from oil to gas last year. Bisignani confirmed it had and the oil storage tanks removed. Converting to gas has already saved the town $30,000, the town manager said.Moriello also expressed concern about the parking lot and approach roads.”Traffic is a problem at all the schools and will always be until we get the buses back,” Bisignani said.Town Meeting member Peter Manoogian spoke in favor of the project and asked his colleagues to join him in support. “Let’s send a message (to the state) that the town of Saugus is behind this project,” he said.Town Meeting member F. Ann Devlin suggested solar panels be considered as part of the school renovations. Bisignani assured her alternative energy sources have been part of the discussion within the building committee.”It feels good,” said School Committee Chairman Wendy Reed following the unanimous vote. “We need to do this.”Reed said the town has not upgraded a school building since the Veterans Memorial School was renovated in 1999.Residents can vote on the Belmonte School renovation project at the polls in November.At press time, Town Meeting members had moved on to Article 15, a vote on whether to pave Hamilton Street sidewalks with asphalt or concrete.

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