To the editor:
I first would like to thank the mayor and the chairman of the School Committee for their columns addressing the West Parish project (the Times, Saturday, May 19).
The more information that is made readily available and the more thorough an explanation provided to the residents of Gloucester, the better off everyone is.
However, as a former student of and with relatives currently enrolled in the city's schools, and who would like to someday be able to send any future children I might have to the city's schools, I believe that there are still many important but unanswered questions.
Chairman Jonathan Pope noted that this West Parish project, although it won't fix all of the issues surrounding the city's school buildings, is the first step in bringing Gloucester Public Schools "into the 21st century."
OK. What is the next step? And what is the step after that? Calling it a first step suggests there's a complete plan; that's great — but what is it?
My understanding is that all of the elementary schools are old. I would guess that West Parish's inability to meet the spatial demand¬ù of 21st century education is not unlike spatial conditions at East Gloucester, Beeman, Plum Cove, and Veterans (although maybe not Fuller, given its size). The mayor points out that the idea of closing neighborhood schools was soundly rejected by the parent community. Last time I checked, residents — parent and non-parent alike — were soundly against the closing of neighborhood fire stations, too, yet they remain closed. But I've digressed.
So our plan is for five elementary schools, with West Parish, to the tune of $30 million to $40 million (with a potential for a rebate), being welcomed into the 21st century first?
When, then, do the East Gloucester, central Gloucester, and northern Gloucester students get to join us? We're already 10-plus years into the century as it is. Will they all need the same investment to be brought up to modern standards?
If so, do we do one school at a time, every five to seven years? That at least gets all elementary students into the 21st century before it's half over, for somewhere around $200 million. And while we're planning, what about O'Maley? By the time we finished with the elementary schools, O'Maley would be as old as West Parish is today.
Admittedly, that's a lot of questions. And I'm sure I (and other residents) have plenty more. Fortunately for everyone involved, the easiest way to answer most all of them: show us the plan — a plan that outlines how every student will be afforded the same educational upgrades currently slated for West Parish; a plan establishing the timeline in which projects are started, finished, responsibly borrowed and paid for, etc.
I would expect the City Council would require such a comprehensive plan before it would ever pay $500,000 for a study regarding the feasibility of a $30 million to $40 million investment — referred to as only the "first step."
Chestnut Street, Gloucester