All things considered, it’s not a bad idea for Mayor Carolyn Kirk and the Gloucester School Committee to ask the City Council to fund half of a new $120,000 study that would yield a report on the physical conditions of the city’s elementary schools.
Also, considering the city has already carried out such a study of West Parish School — and is currently funding a council-approved $500,000 feasibility study that will tell us whether the state’s School Building Authority recommends building a new school for West Parish’s current population or renovating that 65-year-old facility — there’s clearly no need to take yet another look at that building.
There is, however, no reason not to include the conditions and potential renovation costs of the Fuller School building in such an independent study — except, of course, the fact that neither the mayor nor her school board colleagues want to talk about its potential school use.
That’s too bad. For, like it or not, a number of city residents and some officials — notably Bruce Tobey — believe that Fuller should be very much in the picture as a potential consolidated school to house at least two of the city’s current elementary programs. And one of the missing links in this entire picture is the projected cost of doing so.
Look, such a study might ultimately show that the cost of restoring Fuller as a school would not be viable as the city moves forward with its big-picture school district of the future. Then again, it might not. And if the city is going to look into the needs of Veterans Memorial, Beeman Memorial, Plum Cove, or East Gloucester schools, it owes it to residents to do a future-looking study of Fuller as well.
All of this, of course, lines up with the fact that school officials seem bent on building a new West Parish without ever going to city voters for their approval — or even a true recommendation. Thankfully, Tobey is looking to sidetrack that voter snub by proposing a non-binding referendum on Gloucester’s school project on the city ballot in November, when voters will already face a similar referendum regarding Fuller’s future uses.
But if Fuller’s cost comes in high, consider this: If the proposed study finds that, indeed, Plum Cove, Beeman, Veterans and East Gloucester might all need significant renovation or replacement in, say, the next 10 years, then it’s hard to believe a renovation of Fuller would not be more practical? And while school leaders may question whether that’s an ideal fit educationally, at what point do the needs of taxpayers merit at least some — a little tiny bit — of consideration?
Many residents and some officials are no doubt tired of hearing that the mayor is seeking yet another study. Yet this one has merit, and deserves the councils support — with one condition.
That’s the mandate that, if the council is to cough up half of the $120,000 study cost, any such study must include a look at Fuller School, and what it would take to make it part of a trimmer, reconfigured school system that would really be on a path to Gloucester’s realistic educational future.