By Marjorie Nesin
---- — Gloucester’s School Committee has formally signed the former Fuller school building over to the control of City Hall, declaring the building as “excess property” from an educational standpoint.
But the agreement still allows for the building to be maintained for use by Gloucester schools, and acknowledges that Fuller could be in temporary use as a substitute school in the future.
A December memorandum of understanding between the school committee and Mayor Carolyn Kirk declares the building “surplus property and no longer needed for educational purposes.”
However, the city agrees to make the building available to West Parish School students should the construction at West Parish require students to be temporarily relocated, as “an assurance to the school committee,” said Kirk.
“That’s all the (agreement) is,” said Kirk, who, as mayor, has a seat on the School Committee. “It is always up to the administration and the school committee to work through facility issues ... the School Committee just wanted some reassurance.”
The city has begun the process of carrying out a $500,000 feasibility study of the West Parish School and its needs through the Massachusetts School Building Authority, with the goal of deciding what to do with the West Parish School that many say needs replacement or major refurbishment.
The city has begun hiring professionals who will conduct the study and the study will likely begin by mid-February, according to Kirk.
Should the West Parish School need to be renovated or razed in favor of a new facility — projected to cost in the range of $20 million to $30 million, with the city collecting a 48 percent reimbursement from the state school building agency, the West Parish students could relocate temporarily to the Fuller school building under terms of the Dec. 12 agreement. But, shifting the students could be pricey, said Kirk, because the Fuller school would need repairs of its own.
“It would require some buttoning up. It would require an investment,” said Kirk.
Kirk said the study results could also indicate that the West Parish School would not require extreme repair or replacement.
“I want to emphasize that point, because it’s being portrayed as a fait accompli,” Kirk said.
Still, as another option if the West Parish School does require replacement, the feasibility study would determine whether it was possible to build another school on the same property, allowing the students to stay at the existing West Parish School while a new school was under construction, according to Kirk.
The agreement also ensures that the preschool students, the school administration, and the transportation department, will continue to have a place in the Fuller building until the city finds somewhere to relocate those groups. And, the agreement requires that the building is “adequately maintained” in the meantime.
“What we’re saying is we’re not going to boot the preschool without complete cooperation and agreement of the school committee about where they should relocate,” Kirk said.
School Committee Chairman Jonathan Pope said that, when the School Committee declares a building as surplus, the committee forfeits all control over a building, allowing the city to move forward with its own plans for the property.
“We have no plans for it, but we still have some functions that are there,” Pope said. “So, we just needed some reassurance that if we declared it surplus, we would be able to maintain the preschool and administration and transportation department within the building until we are able to relocate.”
Regarding the West Parish School, Pope called the school, built in 1948, outdated and said it should be replaced.
“It’s a building that’s beyond its life cycle,” said Pope.
But, he said, as the city prepares to replace that school, officials will have to consider what would be the most cost-effective option for housing West Parish students.
“There’s dollars and cents attached to all of these things,” Pope said.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.