AMESBURY — Now that voters have approved a $60.5 million debt exclusion to build an elementary school, the process is on track toward construction.
The city has been working with the Massachusetts School Building Authority for four years to construct a new Amesbury Elementary School next to Cashman Elementary School on Lions Mouth Road.
Voters approved the debt exclusion Tuesday in a 1,354 to 1,234 vote. The state has promised to pay roughly $24.3 million toward the new school while the city would be on the hook for an estimated $36.2 million.
Construction is expected to begin in August with a projected completion date before the start of the 2022-23 school year.
Boston-based DiNisco Design has been handling the architectural duties and President Donna DiNisco said Wednesday that students at Cashman will not see any construction for the rest of this school year.
"The first truck on site will be in the summer of 2020," DiNisco said. "So when the students come back to school at the end of August, there will be a safe, separate, fenced-in area for the contractor which will be completely separate from the school."
Since the MSBA board of directors has already approved the city's schematic design, the next step would be to prepare a project funding agreement and a project scope and budget agreement, according to DiNisco.
"We need to start the design in earnest," she said. "We need to refine the design, which is called the design/development phase. We need to refine the design with materials, final exterior, looks and interior spaces to make sure that we have captured the essence of the Amesbury way of teaching. That should take about four months and then we need to get into creating the construction/bid documents, which should take about eight months."
Superintendent Jared Fulgoni said this will be his fifth school building project, with the most recent being the construction of a new Hunking School while he was assistant superintendent of schools in Haverhill.
"At this point, most of the work is happening behind the scenes. It's not something that people would see any equipment if they drove by," Fulgoni said. "This is about the engineers and architects, working at their desks, drawing blueprints and having meetings with the state."
This will be a design-bid-build project that would see the city obtaining bids from contractors.
"These bidders must be state approved," Fulgoni said. "They have already been vetted by the state."
The project would also need to work through the city's planning process, according to DiNisco.
"We have conservation review, Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals and Conservation Commission," DiNisco said. "We would like to start that process as soon as possible to hit the ground running."
Constructing an access road from Lions Mouth Road should be the first physical step of the project, according to DiNisco.
"Right now, that is scheduled for August," DiNisco said. "But if we can accelerate it, that is our goal."
She said the construction would provide an educational opportunity for students.
"We can put up a fence with scrim but with some peepholes because the kids love it," DiNisco said. "We have also seen some schools which include the construction components into their math and science classes. That can really be a lot of fun, especially for the kids, who will get to see the trucks. They will see the steel being erected and all kinds of equipment coming on site. It really is exciting."
The special election Tuesday marked the second time voters went to the polls in a month. A preliminary election was held Sept. 17.
City Clerk Christine Dixon said the state Election Division barred the city from putting the debt exclusion question on the preliminary ballot.
"That is not allowed because of the nature of the election," she said. "So, the only way they said we could do it that same day would be if we had two check-ins, two checkouts and two ballots. That would have been very, very confusing, both for the voters and the staff."
Dixon added that the school timeline required that a funding vote take place before Nov. 1, and with the municipal election planned for Nov. 5, a decision was made by Mayor Ken Gray and the City Council to hold the special election Tuesday.
Dixon said the special election brought more people to the polls than the preliminary election Sept. 17. The preliminary election drew a 15.5% voter turnout with 1,889 votes counted, while the special election saw a 21.2% voter turnout out, or 2,597 ballots cast.
The preliminary and special elections were held in the Amesbury High School gymnasium.
Dixon said voting for the election Nov. 5 will be in the school's cafeteria. No classes will be in session that day.
Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.