By Steven Fletcher
With the School Committee still deciding whether to declare the Fuller School building a surplus property, at least one afterschool program may not be able to stay in the facility much longer.
The Cape Ann YMCA runs an afterschool program in Fuller, and is about three weeks into a 90-day, temporary occupancy permit.
Without an occupancy permit, the program won't be able to continue to operate in the building — and officials don't believe parts of the building the Y uses can be permitted in their current condition.
City officials said a parent with a child in one of the programs called the state about the building's condition. The state asked the city to run an inspection, and that led to revoking Fuller's occupancy permit about three weeks ago.
Officials expect it would cost around $5 million to repair Fuller to permitted occupancy levels. However, based on what the Massachusetts School Building Authority said it cost to repair other schools, it might cost about six times that to renovate Fuller, officials say.
"If we find enough violations," said Building Inspector Bill Sanborn, "we can't approve the occupancy permit."
While the YMCA programs will eventually have to move out of the building, revoking an occupancy permit for that part of Fuller doesn't effect the School District administrative offices, Sanborn said.
A fire wall separates the school and the district offices, he said, so, technically, they comprise two different buildings.
Schools in the city, including the school section of Fuller, are inspected yearly. When he inspected Fuller in January, Sanborn said the roof leaks were his chief concern.
In a letter to Public Works director Mike Hale, Sanborn has now laid out 20 issues with the structure. They include the roof, mold caused by roof leaks, light fixtures, musty odor, peeling floors, a fire alarm system in need of upgrading, poor ventilation, unsecured rooms and hallways, a generator in need of repair, and broken windows and smoke detectors, among other concerns.
Hale could not be reached for comment on this story.
Those repairs, said Mayor Carolyn Kirk, would cost about $5 million. That money, she said, would just get the city an occupancy permit and doesn't come close to rehabilitating the structure for use as an elementary school.
"We have to phase out the use of the building," Kirk said. Last year the city paid about $230,000 to maintain Fuller.
A full rehab of the structure could cost between $20 million and $30 million, Superintendent Richard Safier states in his latest superintendent's report.
"Suffice it to say," Safier's statement reads, "going forward, the elementary children of Gloucester require a facility that is secure and equipped for the educational demands of the 21st century. That requires (at Fuller) extensive repair and or renovation."
A renovation cost for Fuller, he said, would not be eligible for state reimbursement.
By contrast, a potential West Parish school building project, which entered the state School Building Authority's eligibility phase last month, would be eligible to receive roughly 48 percent reimbursement from the state.That proposal is also now being projected at $30 million, with the city's costs pegged at little more than half that amount.
Safier's new Fuller rehabilitation figures are based on comparable projects in other communities. A Foxborough High School repair project, according to Safier's report, cost $19 million, but repairs to an East Somerville school that serves kindergartners through eighth-graders cost $34 million.
The Fuller School is a 175,000 square foot building, built as St. Peter's High School by the Archdiocese of Boston in 1965 and sold to the city in 1972.
The city largely stopped using the school in 2008, when the district decided to pursue local "neighborhood" elementary schools, and turned all of the city's fifth-graders, who had gone to Fuller in 2007-2008, back to elementary schools, including some expanded by the use of modular classroom units.
Fuller has sat mostly vacant ever since, housing only the district offices, transportation department, and preschool, along with a gym used by the YMCA and one of Gloucester's primary auditorium which, among other things, serves as home to the Cape Ann Symphony Orchestra.
What to do with the school offices, said Safier, is part of the district and School Committee's due diligence before the deciding whether to declare Fuller surplus. The committee and district are looking into shifting the preschool to an expanded facility at Pathways for Children on Emerson Avenue, but haven't yet found an appropriate office site.
"Both the city and School Department are working together to identify options and alternatives, should the School Department deem Fuller surplus," he said.
"We're encouraging them to find an alternative location, even if we have to pay for leased office space," Kirk said. "It's a lot cheaper than what we pay today to keep building going."
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.