By Marjorie Nesin
---- — After a final verbal dual over whether the Fuller building could even possibly find use as a school, the council gave a definitive “no” to a school use option, even taking steps to take “school” out of the Fuller property’s name.
While the options to use the now “Fuller Building Site” as a space to relocate some or all city offices, to develop the site for commercial use or to develop it for mixed uses, will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot’s non-binding referendum question, the council voted down at least three other potential options Tuesday that would have given voters a choice to show support for re-using the building as a school.
“It’s not going to be a school again. It’s not in the cards,” City Councilor Joe Ciolino said Wednesday night. “The experts have said no, the parents have said no, and the School Committee has said no.”
The School Committee voted unanimously in January to declare the Fuller building as “surplus,” and councilors have said that keeping the school option on the referendum question after the surplus declaration would leave the building “in limbo,” while removing the option would allow the city to move forward with another use sooner.
Ciolino also proposed the official name change of the site, calling its former title of “Fuller School Building” misleading.
“We need to put an end to the confusion and to the possibility that people envision it being a school again,” Ciolino said.
To questions of whether the name change would serve to disrespect the school’s namesake, Ciolino said, “We’re honoring the man, Milton L. Fuller, and it serves no purpose to put the word ‘school’ in it.”
Council President Jackie Hardy, having said previously that she wished to avoid narrowing the voters’ options too far, proposed adding a school option to the referendum question during the meeting Tuesday night, but her proposal was knocked out with only she and Councilor Bruce Tobey voting in favor.
Tobey motioned to add a school option, too. He proposed schooling West Parish students at the Fuller building while the city rebuilds the West Gloucester school, with construction for that project tentatively set to begin next autumn. The School Committee has issued a request for proposals in search of a rental site to house the students for up to three years, with the owner of the closed down ITT Rule Kondelin Road industrial site seen as a leading responder.
Tobey’s motion was shot down in a 6-3 vote, with he, Hardy and Councilor Greg Verga voting in favor. Tobey commended Hardy and Verga’s “bravery,” but shared a more harsh judgment of the rest of his colleagues.
“It’s disgraceful that the councilors took it upon themselves to tell the people what they could and could not choose from,” Tobey said. “It’s for the voters to decide if they want to hold those people accountable,” he added, referring to the city administration and school officials’ policies seen by many as letting the former school fall into disrepair.
The council voted unanimously to include the three options not related to the building’s future use as a school, and also voted unanimously in favor of question wording explaining that all options “include the proposed use of the former Charlie Thomas field at the site as a municipal public safety center.”
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.