GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

April 10, 2013

School officials eye new study

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

---- — With the feasibility study for West Parish Elementary School roaring along, the School Committee and Mayor Carolyn Kirk are now looking to the city to fund half of a $120,000 formal “assessment” of the condition of Gloucester’s other four functioning elementary schools.

According to City Council documents, the School Committee intends to hire an architect to evaluate the educational programming capabilities and physical condition at each of four schools, which include Veterans’ Memorial, East Gloucester, Plum Cove and Beeman.

To the dismay of some, however, the committee would not assess the Fuller school building that the committee declared surplus in January, but still uses to house a preschool, administrative offices and the school transportation office.

“What we should be talking about is a comprehensive assessment of every elementary school the city now owns, whether in use or in moth balls, so that we do a fair, objective and comprehensive look,” City Councilor Bruce Tobey said in an interview Tuesday.

Tobey, who has been outspoken in urging the council to seek community input on the reuse of Fuller as a school, said the school committee is “serving the city poorly” by “acquiescing in the destruction” of Fuller school.

“On one hand, we have a rush to judgment to build a trophy school in West Gloucester, whether we need it or not, and on the other hand to proceed hell bent to abandon one of our solid structures, Fuller school, and that is irresponsible,” Tobey said.

School Committee chair Jonathan Pope said the Massachusetts School Building Authority has assessed West Parish already as part of plans to rebuild the school and has seen Fuller school building. The MSBA, which will pay 48 percent of the cost of rebuilding, renovating or otherwise relocating West Parish, could consider renovating Fuller and moving West Parish students there.

“The aspect that Fuller is going to be looked at is as an alternative for West Parish. It’s not going to be looked at for anything else,” Pope said.

Pope said the assessment would aid the School Committee in putting together a 10-year capital plan for all of the city’s school buildings.

“We’re going to get an accurate picture of what we have and what we are going to need to do in the future so we can plan,” Pope said.

The high school and O’Maley Middle School would not be involved in the study because the high school already underwent repairs in 1995 and the middle school seems to be in good condition, Pope said. The elementary schools were last assessed by an architect in 2002, according to Pope. Still, he said, some things have changed, “including how we look at the efficiency of utilities,” he said.

Mayor Kirk turned to the city council Tuesday night to request the council fund half the elementary schools’ assessment, while the school department and school committee fund the other half of the $120,000 study.

“Upon completion of the capital and educational program needs assessment of the other four elementary schools, along with the completion of the Feasibility Study for a MSBA West Parish School project, we will have a solid grasp of and a blueprint for the district’s entire elementary school program over the next decade,” Kirk wrote in a memorandum to the council.

Kirk noted in the memorandum that as the West Parish Study has progressed, people have begun asking about the condition of Gloucester’s other schools.

The proposal was expected to be forwarded to the council’s committee on Budget and Finance last night. The School Committee will vote tonight on whether to fund their half of the assessment.

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