By Marjorie Nesin
---- — Plans for building a new West Parish Elementary school as a $30 million, three-story “L”-shaped structure will roll forward into a detailed planning stage after a unanimous approval vote from the state board that will help fund the project.
The preferred schematic design for the West Parish School, which passed almost without questioning or discussion at Wednesday’s Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) meeting in Boston, came on the heels of the same state board moving forward with what one board member said would be the “most expensive school ever built in Massachusetts by a long shot,” a potential $300 million Boston middle/high school.
The next step for the Gloucester project is for the MSBA to work in collaboration with the district to produce detailed designs for the potential school project.
State Treasurer Steven Grossman, who sits on the board, commended the so-far successful work and planning to replace West Parish.
“Listening to the needs of a community and developing projects accordingly are priorities at the MSBA, and the West Parish Elementary School project is a case study in that sentiment,” said Grossman. “Thanks to our collaborative work with local officials, we are working to build a safe and modern educational facility that will provide students with a top-notch learning environment.”
In support of Gloucester’s project, Superintendent Richard Safier, School Committee President Jonathan Pope and School Committee member Kathy Clancy attended the meeting, with Mayor Carolyn Kirk and State Sen. Bruce Tarr speaking on behalf of the West Parish project.
“This is my alma mater we’re talking about,” Tarr said. “And even though I love the building and its configuration, I love the community more and know it’s time for change.”
At prior meetings with the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the state board inquired about topics ranging from accessibility and drop-off points at the school to the possibilities of “science exploration” inside and outside of the new building.
The city’s next step includes calculating exact figures and setting dates for City Council meetings at which the project will be considered, and preparing a design and construction schedule for presentation to the MSBA, which will reimburse 48.7 percent of the cost of the three-story, 18-classroom school.
The information gathered in the now-begun schematic design process will help the state board decide on a final budget for the school building project.
Though the school will still house grades kindergarten through fifth, the square footage will expand from 41,420 to 65,469 with the new building. The cost for just the building is estimated at just over $30 million, with that number not including the cost of relocating students in another building for two years.
The city, meanwhile, has embarked on a 20-year capital plan to examine and repair the remaining four elementary schools.
“This is the beginning of a process for us,” Tarr said. “But a process has to start somewhere, and we could spend a long time figuring where to start, but, thankfully, we’ve agreed this is where it needs to start.”
Kirk stressed that despite the project having begun and found approval from three city councils, three school committees, two superintendents, an interim superintendent and one mayor, the show must march onward.
“Our challenge on a local level is to bring generations along, to remind them that the school they attended 50 years ago is not the same school today, and the educational program is not the same today,” Kirk said.
She told the board the easiest part of the three-year process has been working with the board.
Then, she added, “we built the support on a local level — that was the hardest part.”
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.