Opinion

Saugus on a roll

The snowball Saugus voters started rolling in June is picking up avalanche speed and proportions with town officials moving quickly to get a mammoth school construction project underway.

Town residents approved debt exclusions for a new middle school-high school with their vote and also signed off on an entire school district restructuring. The total price tag for the projects is $185 million.

Some communities might hesitate to jump into a major construction and reorganization investment on the order of the one Saugus has shouldered. But town officials with, by all accounts, the support of town residents, are embracing the massive project and can’t wait to get it started.

Suffolk Construction, a contractor with projects across the state, is the town’s pick to serve as construction manager for the school projects. The town Project Building Committee not only picked Suffolk, but also chose the option of designating the firm as “construction manager at-risk.”

The at-risk designation is intended to give Suffolk more flexibility to make adjustments to the project as it proceeds. To quote Town Manager Scott Crabtree, at-risk “… brings us closer to building our new school for the community.”

Other towns and other managers might take a proceed-with-caution approach to tackling a gigantic construction project, but everyone who cares about Saugus appears to understand the intense competition and the highly-selective process defining public school construction in Massachusetts.

Revere harnessed political might to get a half dozen new public schools built and other communities make convincing arguments about the need to address racial balance in their schools through new construction.

But Saugus understands, to put it simply, that the town’s time is now. Saugus isn’t simply building a new school, it is redefining education in the town for future generations. Building a combined middle school and high school is a bold project that some educators would caution against undertaking because of its magnitude.

Saugus has made the combined school a centerpiece of a plan that also reconfigures elementary education. The full design development package for this ambitious undertaking is scheduled to be submitted to state officials in November.

Once they start reviewing Saugus’ plans in depth, state officials won’t simply be looking at building square footage and counting classrooms. They will be challenging themselves to envision how school construction on a grand scale can rocket a small public school system deep into the 21st century.

Saugus isn’t just planning to break ground for new schools; it is also mapping out groundbreaking visions for redefining public education.

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