To the editor:
After reading the editorial headlined “Time to put the brakes on runaway school building plans,” (the Times, Tuesday, April 2), it is truly disheartening to realize that the Times seems to depend on unsupported misinformation to create as much confusion and controversy as possible in order to sell papers.
The School Committee and the School Department have no capacity to proceed with any capital building plan on their own. The City Council has to approve any capital bonding and approve any requests for matching funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
In 2009, the School Committee put together a “statement of interest” to the MSBA to rebuild or replace West Parish School. It was unanimously approved by the City Council. MSBA accepted the project and we entered the eligibility period. The City put the project on the back burner as they tried to resolve the water crisis. In 2012, as the eligibility period was about to expire, the City Council voted once again unanimously to request an extension.
The Massachusetts School Building Authority, which will reimburse Gloucester 48.27 percent of the cost to replace West Parish School, is under the jurisdiction of the Treasury Department and has a rigid process and strict oversight of all projects that they support.
The Massachusetts School Building Authority that was involved in the renovation of Gloucester High School was part of the Department of Education and had a fairly strict qualification process but depended on local building committees for the oversight of the projects. The state’s decision to shut down the Department of Education MSBA was due to funding and over extension issues as well as poorly managed projects.
For West Parish to move forward, the city had to submit an Initial compliance certification showing that we understood the MSBA’s rules. We then formed a Building Committee with required members with different professional backgrounds, which was approved by the MSBA. We submitted the School District Maintenance Plan, and provided information so the MSBA could do enrolment projections. We then entered into the MSBA’s standard feasibility study agreement, which includes identifying a funding source. This City Council held a public hearing and voted unanimously to approve the bonding of $500,000, 48.27 percent reimbursable, to fund the feasibility study of West Parish School.
The Building Committee then issued an RFP, interviewed applicants and hired a owners project manager, then issued an RFP, interviewed applicants and hired a design team, completing Module 2 of the 8 module process.
Module 3 is the feasibility study as outlined by the MSBA, “the district and its team collaborate with the MSBA to document their educational program, generate an initial space summary, document existing conditions, establish design parameters, develop and evaluate alternatives, and recommend the most cost effective and educationally appropriate preferred solution to the MSBA Board of Directors for their consideration.”
The Building Committee felt that an appropriate way to start this process would be to visit a new school as a point of reference to discuss the requirements of Module 3.
We also felt that it might be helpful for the School Committee, mayor’s office and City Council to be given the opportunity to join the visit so an invitation was sent to them, which somehow led to the Gloucester Times calling this a “runaway project.”
And by the way, the new Avery School in Dedham has 315 students not 211.
Chairman, Gloucester School Committee
Member, West Parish Building Committee