GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

September 4, 2013

My View: A real inside look at Fuller

My View
Bruce Tobey

---- — Armed with a trusted camera, I recently took a solitary self-guided tour of Fuller School.

It was easy to do. The school’s wide-open main entrance doors offered me their silent invitation, and I was led by robust memories of the many visits I paid to the vibrant elementary school once housed there during my nine years as mayor and my 11 on School Committee.

Did I see the seething pit of decay unfit for human habitation or use that our local government insists Fuller School is? No, I saw no such thing. And those who seek to portray Fuller that way through a handful of cherry-picked images tucked into a consultant’s PowerPoint presentation serve our city poorly.

I urge you all to view some of the dozens of photos from my visit to Fuller School that accompany today’s on-line version of this column at gloucestertimes.com so you can see for yourself what I saw.

Pass your own judgment on the building’s condition. Here is what I think you will conclude:

The classrooms are large, bright and spacious, though in need of TLC, cleaning and the restoration of some fixtures removed by city workers since the closing of the school; in a small handful of classrooms, floor tiles damaged by sink leaks need replacing.

Ceilings in classrooms are almost completely intact and largely free from leaks, with the significant exception of a hallway leak near the auditorium entrance arising from poorly sealed exterior doorframes and a leaking interior drainage line.

The main gymnasium is in pristine condition and should well be the envy of any fitness center or YMCA.

With a good cleaning, the cafeteria is in fine order and ready to be reopened to serve students again.

The integrity of the translucent atrium roof is absolute – it is undamaged and intact.

A building alleged to be a hazard continues to serve one of our most vital functions, housing our emergency management operations and all its critical equipment.

The two monuments to those to whom the building is dedicated — a painting of the late Milton Fuller, a much-loved Gloucester educator who helped mold the minds of generations of Gloucester students, and a plaque dedicating the building to the memory of “Cape Ann young men who gave their lives in the Vietnam conflict” — stand a dishonored silent watch over a building their city daily defiles.

Adding insult to injury, this occurs as that same city simultaneously entertains the notion of renting a shuttered manufacturing plant (next to an active railroad line and a roadway to a solid waste transfer station in an unsewered industrial park) as the temporary home for West Parish School students when their building is torn down so a new school can be built.

It is little less than utter madness, driven by a bull-headed administrative stubbornness that heeds neither fact nor public opinion.

Can we call the renewed urgency to build a combined police-fire facility on Fuller School’s “former” Charlie Thomas Field (another memorial to a local legend casually kicked to the curb), a notion founded in popular chatter rather than serious study, what it really is — another poisoned pill meant to hasten the demise of even short-term elementary school re-use for the facility?

At a recent City Council meeting, I was stunned to hear a colleague describe Fuller School, assessed as a $17 million community asset, as a ‘tear-down” with no remaining value.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Only someone intoxicated by the false propaganda of a blatant disinformation campaign could think otherwise.

Don’t misunderstand me – I understand that the long-neglected Fuller School has its issues. So do the steadily crumbling modular units that keep our current configuration of elementary schools afloat. For that matter, so does every city building, yet few are in as good a condition as Fuller despite the apparent efforts of some to lay it waste. If something like a skittishly operating boiler constituted a death sentence for a city-owned building, City Hall and half of our elementary schools would have been boarded up years ago. Clearly, that hasn’t happened.

Some would say: “Don’t worry; if we sell Fuller School at auction, we have to get its full valuation.” That statement is both wrong and shockingly naïve. The law allows public bids for the disposition of a municipal building to be restricted to closely-specified and limited uses that can dramatically reduce the value of the asset.

For five years, Gloucester’s students and taxpayers have been cheated of the value of the $17 million school. It need not continue. Don’t take my word for it – look at the pictures, and I think you’ll agree: it needs to stop, now. Allowing the neglect to continue is intolerable. Anyone in our local elected government who would continue on that path of neglect and waste, by action or inaction, silence or speech, needs to be held accountable.

Bruce Tobey is a current city councilor-at-large, former mayor of Gloucester, former City Council president, and a former member of the Gloucester School Committee.