GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

April 3, 2013

Tobey eyes ballot question on school

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

---- — As the School Committee works through the steps to replace or repair Gloucester’s West Parish school, with bonding for the project eventually requiring a city council vote, one city councilor is proposing to ask residents whether they want to see the project push forward with new school construction.

At-large city councilor and former four-term mayor Bruce Tobey has submitted an order for the council to vote on placing the potential school construction question on the November ballot, intended to spark discussion and promote planning for future uses of city-owned past and present elementary school buildings.

The question would be non-binding, as an advisory ballot question, Tobey said.

“(But) this is not to pass the buck to the voters,” Tobey said. “The council is charged to make decisions with comprehensive community planning and broad community input.”

Tobey called for the council vote on implementing the proposed ballot question on the same day that city and school officials attended a tour at a new Dedham elementary school that could act as the official model for a rebuild of the West Parish Elementary School.

The following day, school officials, including School Committee Chairman Jonathan Pope, met with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), the state organization that will reimburse the city for 48.27 percent of a school build or renovation that the MSBA would pre-approve.

The School Committee’s contracted architect, Dore & Whittier Architects Inc., will now create a feasibility study featuring three options for construction or renovation. The MSBA must approve those options if the city intends to seek the state’s funding.

“We’re in the step of developing three possibilities for replacing West Parish and those three could include anything that (the architects) come up with,” Pope said. “The considerations are the financial feasibility of each project and the educational demand being met.”

The School Committee will then take its plans to the city council for a public hearing, followed by a council vote on bonding the funds necessary for building or renovating, according to Pope, who expects that process to unfold about mid-November. The bonding would not require a citywide referendum.

Pope said Tobey’s proposed ballot question seemed “a bit redundant,” considering that a public hearing and city council vote on bonding the project are both required.

“They’re going to get a vote on this and there’s going to be a public hearing. I’m not really sure what the point of a non-binding question is,” Pope said.

City councilors already voted in December to include a non-binding referendum question regarding the future use of the Fuller School building on the November ballot. The discussion that stems from the result of that referendum would correlate with the conversation resulting from Tobey’s proposed question about moving forward with construction of a new West Parish School building, he said.

The council will vote Tuesday on whether to ask residents on the November ballot whether the city should proceed with construction of a new West Parish School building.

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