GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Opinion

August 26, 2013

Editorial: City voters deserve school option in Fuller ballot question

Gloucester City Council President Jackie Hardy said it best.

Noting tonight’s 7 p.m. workshop session at City Hall’s Kyrouz Auditorium, Hardy conceded that, while restoring and reusing the Fuller School building and site for a school facility may not be her cup of tea, it’s an option that should at least be placed before the city’s voters in a nonbinding referendum planned for November.

Now, we can only hope her council colleagues will join her in at least letting the city’s voters — not just school officials, well-organized school parents’ groups, or even a council decision — have their say regarding whether Fuller’s future should include some type of consolidated elementary school as an alternative to building a new West Parish Elementary School that would house just one of the city’s five current so-called school “neighborhoods.”

Tonight’s meeting, which follows a pair of input public hearings, is designed to help the council finalize wording for the November ballot question that, while nonbinding, should indeed deliver some citywide consensus regarding what residents would like to see on the Fuller site. And that’s not easy.

At least one potential use, for example — that of housing the city’s Police Department, Fire Department and the Fire Department’s ambulance services — could be carried out while leaving the current Fuller building in place, according to a 2012 study by the quasi-public MassDevelopment. So it seems important that any referendum emphasize that voters choose what use they would see as their top-priority choice for the site, recognizing that more than ne use is possible.

But, with school officials seemingly in fear of a vote to reuse Fuller as a school, the most debate has been over whether that option should even be included — along with a public safety complex, a municipal office complex that could finally house the city’s government under one roof, or a choice of selling of leasing the building and/or property to commercial interests.

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