It was interesting to note that members of the Gloucester School Committee, obviously with regular public forums of their own, dominated much of a City Council-run public forum aimed at drawing in ideas from residents regarding the future use of the Fuller School building.
And most committee members echoed a tired refrain — that Fuller, which they and other city officials have allowed to grossly deteriorate, cannot be used as a school, and that the city should not even look at creating a consolidated elementary school and must instead build a new school serving only those students and parents in the West Parish district.
Yet, that same day, word broke that officials in the Manchester Essex Regional School District, ranked among the top 25 in the state, was at least considering that very option as it looks to improve its elementary facilities, Manchester’s Memorial School and Essex Elementary.
Regional school officials are considering three options to emerge from a study by the Norwell architectural firm of Habeeb and Associates. And those include building a single elementary school that would house the pre-k through Grade 5 students from both Essex and Manchester — a project pegged to cost some $41 million.
It is, to be fair, the most costly of the choices — the others being to renovate and upgrade both current elementary schools at a cost of some $35.2 million, or a $35 million plan that would renovate both current schools, yet split their service, with one school hosting the district’s students in pre-k through Grade 2, and the others housing Grades 3-5. And it’s hard to assess which option will draw the School Committee’s and residents’ support.
But the fact that a consolidated school has been deemed a viable choice by the architectural firm and is at least up for discussion for district officials should send an important message to Gloucester city and school officials, who seem to view consolidation as something to fear — despite declining enrollment, and a so-called “neighborhood” school system in which kids are already bused, among other routes, from the Gloucester Avenue neighborhood all the way to Plum Cove.
Even if the current Fuller building is deemed not suitable — and that drew questions Tuesday night — the idea of a single, perhaps even new, elementary school on the Fuller site housing two or three of the current school populations seems worth a look, especially considering a new West Parish School would no doubt lead to pushes for three or four more new faux “neighborhood” schools in the years to come.
Simply put, Gloucester should follow Manchester Essex’s lead. A consolidation plan may not be the answer, but it at least deserves a place on the table.