GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

March 28, 2013

My View: Bruce Tobey on school project

My View
Bruce Tobey

---- — Together with other members of the Gloucester City Council, I recently received from the West Parish School Building Committee an invitation to attend an April 1 visit to a new elementary school in Dedham.

Designed by the firm which is working with the committee and is apparently guiding it through its review process, some see the new Dedham school as the model we should adopt.

Due to the obligations of my day job, I had to decline this invitation. I sent a note to the committee chair, sharing my gratitude for his team’s efforts and hard work.

But I also sent along some of many questions I have regarding this potential project -- in my opinion, they raise serious concerns which our entire community needs to consider. And unless they are resolved, this project should be a non-starter, because setting the initial focus on deciding what “new model” school we want to buy is the wrong focus.

What are my concerns? They include:

1. What, if any, future need will the school system have for Fuller School, which now lies in limbo, decaying further by the day due to willful neglect?

2. What is the truth of the matter regarding the state’s reimbursement policies should the city decide to rehabilitate Fuller School for a return to school use?

3. What is the projected useful life of the elementary school modular units, bought some five years ago with an expedited amortization period for the repayment of the resulting debt because they would not last the usual 20 years over which such a debt is usually repaid?

4. What will be the impact on overall elementary classroom needs when we lose the use of those modulars because of their early deaths?

5. Why has the community implicitly accepted an elementary school placement formula whereby the suburban Wards 1, 4 and 5 may host elementary schools but the downtown urban Wards 2 and 3 may not?

I could go on, but I hope my point is clear: it is a mistake to decide which model car we want to buy before we figure out whether buying this new car now is either the right priority or a purchase we can afford in the long-run.

Until valid answers to my questions are in hand, and I will continue to press for them, the West Parish project will not have my support. And, without satisfactory resolutions to these concerns, the project shouldn’t have the community’s support, either.

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Bruce Tobey is a current city councilor-at-large and a former four-term mayor and city council president of the city of Gloucester.