By Douglas Moser
---- — METHUEN — State officials marked a milestone here yesterday, highlighting the ongoing $98 million high school renovation and expansion project as a prime example of the impact of $10 billion in state investment in school buildings over nine years has had on communities.
The state, through a quasi-public entity created in 2004 called the Massachusetts School Building Authority, is paying about two-thirds of the project cost and has reimbursed the city about $83.2 million so far for the high school and for past grammar school improvement projects.
State Treasurer Steven Grossman, who is a candidate for the 2014 Democratic nomination for governor, said the investment in a new school building is a “game changer” for Methuen’s economy.
“Public education is the reason people stay here,” Grossman said. “A school like this is going to be critical for the long-term success of the region.”
Cities and towns with projects approved for funding through MSBA in the past waited for long periods of time before getting reimbursed. Methuen, which renovated its grammar schools, was one of those communities. But Matthew Donovan, chief operating officer of MSBA, said changes to the authority have streamlined the review and audit process.
That has cleared a backlog that developed.
“Now, 98 percent of the wait list projects are complete and in the final audit,” Jack McCarthy, executive director of the school building authority, said.
The state reimbursed Methuen $13.9 million for renovations to Marsh Grammar School, $15.4 million for Tenney Grammar School, $15 million for Timony Grammar School and $39 million so far for Methuen High School, according to figures from the MSBA.
One penny of the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax is set aside each year for school building projects across the state. This year, that totals $700 million, said Grossman, who as state treasurer oversees the MSBA. With bonding and low-cost borrowing, he said that total can translate into $1 billion in funding.
Mayor Stephen Zanni praised the MSBA, contractor Consigli Construction and the high school administration for managing a major renovation project on a building still in use by students.
“This school will be a gem of the Merrimack Valley when it’s done,” Zanni said.
State Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, D-Methuen, said MSBA’s review of the project lent an authority to the project that helped local officials justify its cost. “The SBA played a big part. Hearing from an authority that has no political perspective on it gave the community an unbiased perspective on what needed to be done,” she said.
Major construction began in the summer of 2012, and the first major piece, the south house and new fine arts wing, were mostly complete this past summer. The newly renovated section opened in September. The north wing is now under construction, and the entire project is on schedule to be completed next summer, officials said.
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