It’s frankly hard to picture the kind of renovation project it might take to turn the former ITT Rule bilge pump and marine equipment plant off Kondelin Road into a cozy neighborhood school, even for a two-year period.
Yet that’s among the sites Gloucester city and school officials are considering as they prepare to take still more steps forward in their commitment to build a new West Parish Elementary on the same site as the current building.
While officials said last week they have not nearly nailed down the former ITT complex as their temporary, two-year answer to house the West Parish kids beginning in 2014, the fact is, the district will need a site of that size or close to it to handle the 21 classrooms, 10 administrative spaces, cafeteria and gym space, and some 10,000 feet for the administration’s facilities department advertised in the city’s formal request for proposals (RFP).
And before this temporary school hunt gets too much further, it seems imperative for officials to get a clear handle on the potential costs of such a move — not only for leasing the ITT or some other similar site, but for the work needed to make it suitable.
There is, of course, a context to the city’s industrial site scouting mission. Some school officials had considered building on the initial West Parish site with the other school in place and possibly in use, only to have their own architectural firm of Dore & Whittier put the kibosh to that idea in May. Now, estimates that a West Parish project would take at least two years to complete means officials must find a two-year home for the West Parish students, teachers and staff.
Officials want to try to keep the students together, ruling out other potential sites like the just-closed St. Ann School, which isn’t handicapped-accessible anyway. So it looks as if city taxpayers will be on the hook for leasing and renovating either ITT or another major industrial-sized property — while also paying $250,000 a year to lease the former charter school for the school’s central offices, transportation office, and pre-school.
None of this might raise a single eyebrow if it weren’t for one thing: the city already has these spaces in a building it still owns.
And while school leaders don’t want to hear it, they owe city taxpayers a thorough explanation as to why they absolutely refuse to consider temporarily housing the West Parish students in a Fuller School building that — despite the city’s disgraceful and not-so-benign neglect — still offers many viable classrooms, a gym and other facilities.
Yes, city and school officials may trot out studies suggesting that Fuller is virtually unfit for habitation, let alone education. But is a leased and renovated industrial plant a better solution, even on a temporary basis?
That’s one we might be able to answer: No.