GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

February 18, 2013

Councilors wary of Y talk on Fuller

Members wary of talks with YMCA

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

---- — City councilors, wary of both the Fuller school building’s current state and its future, are calling for an official report from the mayor on the building’s destiny.

A City Council discussion of the city having lacked a full emergency shelter during the past weekend’s blizzard led one councilor, Bruce Tobey, to question just what is going on and will go on at the Fuller building, which had served as the city’s usual location for an emergency shelter. City Councilor Greg Verga agreed and made an official request for a formal report from Mayor Carolyn Kirk.

The city took over responsibility for the Fuller building in January, when the School Committee declared the structure surplus property, and since then, speculation has swirled around the city possibly looking to cut a deal and sell the building to the Cape Ann Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).

”It’s only fair that, if there are these conversations going on with a nonprofit entity, that the public should know about it and at least the council should know about it,” Verga said in an interview Friday.

City councilors had voted in December to put the Fuller building’s potential fate on a non-binding referendum question on the next ballot coming in November. Now, councilors want to know if there have been talks between the mayor’s office and the YMCA that could subvert the referendum, or any of the other options, which have included use as public safety building, or as a revitalized and perhaps consolidated school facility.

If there have been talks, Verga asked, “Then why are we wasting time on another option when one winner has already been chosen to be the recipient?”

The ballot question that city councilors approved, with only councilor Joe Ciolino opposing, was first vetoed by the mayor before councilors overrode that veto.

Kirk, at that time, said the main reason for the veto was that the School Committee had already declared the building surplus, and therefore it could not be used as a school. The non-binding referendum that the councilors’ override rekindled entertains the options of purposing the space as a municipal building, putting the building back to use as a school, or selling or leasing the property, with each option also allowing for a combination Police and Fire Department safety building.

As city councilors reword the referendum in coming months, the school option will likely vanish from the list of choices, Verga has said. But, he said, it seemed to him like the YMCA might already have their foot planted in the door anyway.

The thing that really disturbed me was when we had the vote to put it on the ballot, the hall was filled with people from the YMCA,” Verga said.

While the mayor’s office maintains that Fuller is unfit for use as a school, a committee has begun hiring a design team tasked with creating a design for rebuilding the West Parish school. The design team will create options for the city to choose to go forward on what the School Committee considers a sorely needed project, according school committee chair Jonathan Pope.

“This whole notion that these schools are interchangeable, or that Fuller is in great shape or that Fuller suits the purposes of the needs that the schools have is really not the answer,” Pope said Friday.

The Fuller school could, however, become the temporary school building for West Parish students, and if that happens, the Fuller building would require renovations in advance.

In the meantime, Councilor Tobey suggested in a Times article that there be “no more talk of building a new elementary school” until the Fuller building is restored to full community use.

But, councilor Joe Ciolino sees the situation in a polar opposite view. First, he said, the city needs to determine the plans for West Parish before settling on what to do with the Fuller building, since students would have to use that building if West Parish needs to be torn down before a new school is built on the same site.

”There are still a lot of questions to answer until we have these uses all figured out,” Ciolino said, “and I think it’s going to start with the West Parish school. Once we find out what’s going to happen with that, I think all the other pieces will fall into place.”

Ciolino confkrmed that, in “unofficial conversations” with members of the YMCA board, he has learned that the YMCA is eager at the prospect of a for sale or lease Fuller building. One idea is to retrofit half of Fuller to the CATA bus company and work out a deal with the YMCA moving into the other half of the building, Ciolino said.

“I know that the YMCA is very anxious to work with the city to come up with some kind of a proposal to move their existing YMCA from there to the Fuller school,” Ciolino said.

Ciolino said there’s also been “unofficial talk” about a trade between the YMCA and the city, in which the city might scoop up the Cape Ann YMCA’s current building on Middle Street. Still, Ciolino emphasized that there are no formal, absolute or determined plans for the Fuller building.

“There’s still a lot of pieces to the puzzle that we call Fuller school,” he said.

Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at mnesin@gloucestertimes.com.