This Tuesday evening at City Council, there will be a progress report presented on the feasibility study currently underway regarding the renovation or rebuilding of the West Parish Elementary School.
The City Council voted unanimously last year to fund the feasibility study, and the city has retained the services of the architectural firm Dore & Whittier. The city is also working hand in hand with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) during this process, which is a requirement since the MSBA is funding almost half of the $500,000 study.
The feasibility study requires a careful review of all the alternatives for addressing the condition of the West Parish school, including an analysis of the Fuller building.
This Tuesday marks the first time the community will hear from experts about the condition of and possibilities for this capital planning effort. It will be the first time the community will be presented with some facts and an independent assessment of both buildings rather than the emotional and uninformed opinions that are often put forward.
As we head into Tuesday’s meeting and the future of our elementary schools, it might be helpful to step back and remind ourselves of how we have gotten to this point.
In 10 short years, enrollment in the Gloucester Public Schools has declined by 25 percent. This translates into a total loss of over 1,000 students.
The School Committee, back in the mid-2000s, confronted the dual challenge of serious budget cuts and declining enrollment, and began the painful process of addressing the need to downsize the elementary school educational program.
After a research-driven process with input from the community over a two-year period, the School Committee made the decision to close the Fuller Elementary School and redistrict over 400 children to other schools. The School Committee then and today holds firmly to the value of an elementary education program that is organized as kindergarten through fifth grade, with no more than two or three classes per grade in each building. This is the configuration we have today.