There is every reason to think that the Massachusetts School Building Authority will indeed bless Gloucester’s “preferred” design for a new West Parish School when MSBA board members convene in Boston Wednesday morning. And it should.
The proposed new school, pegged for the same site as occupied by the current, decaying West Parish building, would — unlike the MSBA’s initial recommendation — at least be able to handle the current West Parish population.
The concept of dividing the classes among three floors – with kindergartners and first-graders at ground level, Grades 2 and 3 on the second floor, and Grades 4 on 5 on the top level — seems to be a very effective means for conveying that each pair of classes have their own secure environment — especially for the littlest pupils. And the location — once the school district works its way through a two-year relocation and transition period — will effectively serve as the kind of “neighborhood” school that local school officials are insisting upon.
But it’s also clear that approval of the potential new school’s design is not the final green light that will let the city start putting out bids for contractors. At some point, the city and its school leaders will have to show a confirmed cost — now up to $36 million, though that includes the temporary relocation costs, Mayor Carolyn Kirk has said. And the MSBA will have to see that, while it’s poised to reimburse the city 48.27 percent of the cost, the city can show it has secured its share of the funding, which is expected to come through a City Council vote at some point.
Yet before committing to the project — before giving the final green light to bring in the wrecking balls and backhoes — the MSBA should insist that the city show that the project has the overall community’s support as well. And, as of now, the city cannot show that.
Without going through either a bond referendum or Proposition 2 1/2 override, city and school officials would be hard-pressed to show signs that a single school project — aimed only at addressing the needs of one of five elementary districts — has widespread community backing. And the fact that school and city officials seem fearful of even putting a consolidated Fuller School option on this fall’s nonbinding Fuller referendum question raises red flags as well.
If the MSBA grants ultimate approval for this project, its board members need to be aware that officials have not only fallen short of securing community-wide support beyond their own “school community” cluster. They’ve seemingly been afraid to even ask.
Is that a project the MSBA should back?