PEABODY — Special legislation is needed to allow a long-term land lease agreement so an outside company can build a sports complex on the new Essex Technical High School campus, Superintendent Daniel O’Connell told the North Shore Chamber of Commerce yesterday.
O’Connell spoke to business leaders about the new $135 million project during a breakfast forum at the Holiday Inn on Route 1.
The new 337,700-square-foot technical school with a 42,300-square-foot farmstead in the Hathorne section of Danvers will meld North Shore Technical High in Middleton and Essex Agricultural and Technical School on the Aggie’s campus with Peabody High vocational programs. The school should be ready for 1,440 students this September, O’Connell said.
O’Connell, the superintendent of North Shore Technical High, said this is not the “voke school” of yesteryear. The school’s computer network will be wireless and students will carry iPads to cut down on the cost of textbooks. There are three dining areas distributed throughout the school that can be used as educational spaces. Hallways are designed to double as learning spaces, the furniture is designed to be moved into various configurations, and walls between classrooms, while soundproof, are not load-bearing, so the layout of classrooms can change.
To save money, the school runs its own bus fleet and has a new maintenance facility to repair them.
Another way to boost the new school would be a sports complex of an ice rink and indoor turf field on campus built by an outside firm, O’Connell said. However, legislation is needed to move forward.
“The state only allows three-year leases,” O’Connell said. “That’s just the way it is. However, on certain projects they have done 25-year land leases.”
The problem is the school sits on state-owned land on the campus of Essex Aggie. The law that created the merger on the campus restricted leases to three years to keep a tight leash on how the regional school district might use or dispose of the land in the future, state Rep. Ted Speliotis, D-Danvers, said.
Last week, Speliotis and other North Shore lawmakers filed a bill to amend the law to allow a 25-year lease for the sports complex.
In an attempt to get the bill fast-tracked, Speliotis said he also included it in a bond bill yesterday afternoon, with the hope the bill will quickly pass so the complex can be up and running by next winter.
O’Connell told the chamber an outside consortium would build and run the facility and pay rent to Essex Tech while letting the school use the facility. The consortium is called Essex Sports Center LLC, said manager Brian DeVellis in an interview. He said a lot is up in the air until legislation passes.
“It’s a waterfall rental income that is less in the beginning, and it’s in three-year increments, but again that is all negotiable,” O’Connell said. A state appraiser will look at the deal to make sure it is fair to the school district.
At the end of the 25 years, the school could take over the facility or extend the land lease agreement, O’Connell said.
The facility would include a 30,000-square-foot ice rink and a 200-by-300-square-foot turf field. The school would use the facility after school, and O’Connell has plans to start boys and girls hockey programs.
“We start at 2:30, so I will take that early afternoon ice, or early morning, which doesn’t affect them,” he said. “They own it from … 5 o’clock on, it’s all their own private rentals plus weekends.”
O’Connell did not know how much the project would cost.
Danvers Town Manager Wayne Marquis said the sports complex may help Danvers High, which presently rents ice time from Salem State University, but that may become unavailable in the future.
Yesterday’s breakfast forum also focused on the future of jobs in the region, including a talk by the executive director of the Salem-based North Shore Workforce Investment Board, Mary Sarris.
Sarris praised O’Connell’s efforts, saying the school is critical to training the region’s workforce which is dominated by health care, manufacturing, computers, medical devices and aerospace and defense companies, with a growing cluster of biotech firms.
She said there is a need to train younger workers, as 45 percent of the North Shore’s labor force is 45 years old and older, while only 30 percent of the labor force is under the age of 35.
“That’s a challenge for us,” Sarris said.
O’Connell also made a pitch to industry leaders to partner with the school and teach students skills they need to succeed in their companies.
One of those who liked what he heard was Peter Furniss, CEO of Footprint Power, the head of the company redeveloping the Salem Harbor power station.
“Having kids understand how the world works is a wonderful thing and there is really no better way to understand that than to experience that firsthand,” Furniss said. “I love the idea of the technical high school. I love the fact that they provide a range of different experiences for kids with different levels of capacity and interest.”
ETHAN FORMAN | The Salem News