The West Parish School building project has made its way onto the Massachusetts School Building Authority's list of potential school building projects.
Wednesday, the authority's board of directors voted unanimously to bring the project into their eligibility period, said Mayor Carolyn Kirk.
Now, Gloucester has some nine months to form a building committee, examine its finances, maintenance capabilities and enrollment, and fund and begin a feasibility study — all before the MSBA decides whether or not to sign off on what could be a 48-percent reimbursement for the project.
"We're excited to be in their capital project pipeline," said Kirk.
Kirk reviewed the decision with members of the School Committee on Wednesday night.
In essence, the board's decision makes the project eligible for funding, but the city has to go through what Kirk called a rigorous vetting process before the MSBA will even consider funding a new school. Wednesday's decision is simply the first step in the process.
One School Committee member said the possibility of a new school in West Gloucester is an important part of the committee's decision regarding the future of Fuller School.
Kirk sent a letter to the committee requesting that they declare the property surplus last week. If the board declares that site surplus it opens it up for city redevelopment as anything but an elementary school.
"I'm excited for the fact that building an new school will be part of that consideration," said School Committee member Melissa Teixeira.
The city has planned for a new school in West Gloucester since 2008. In 2009, the city submitted a statement of intent to the MSBA that listed replacing West Parish for a host of concerns — primarily, that the aging school building was stretched to its limits, with more than 380 students.
Kirk stated in her letter of interest regarding the project that the city backed off the West Parish project because it prioritized repairs to roofs on several school buildings, had an interim superintendent coming on board, and former seven-year superintendent Christopher Farmer on his way out. She added that the city's fiscal state was shaky at the time.
The city, she said, was also in the midst of emergency water system repairs after the 2009 boil-water order.
Now, Gloucester taken the project a step beyond where it reached in previous years. With the MSBA placing it in the eligibility period, the city has 270 days to meet seven requirements.
Those requirements include establishing a school building committee, signing a certificate that says the city will play by the MSBA's rules, and compiling some background information.
The city needs to pull together summaries of the city's funding capacity to pay for a building project, maintenance capabilities, and enrollment levels. After that, the City Council will have to approve funding for a feasibility study and the city will start work on that study.
In the immediate future, Kirk said she'll work with the School Committee to determine where the city heads next with the effort.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.