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October 24, 2012

Editorial: City residents owed full referendum on school project

Mayor Carolyn Kirk makes a good point when she notes that she simply doesn’t see the need for investing in Gloucester schools as something that’s optional.

And she’s absolutely right to note that, when Gloucester residents faced an embarrassing, nearly month-long boil water order from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection in late-summer 2009, spending millions to address the problem and the city’s did not – and should never have – faced a referendum from city voters.

But she’s just plain wrong in trying to portray the city’s current proposal for a new West Parish School as an urgent need on the par with the city’s drinking water quality crisis (the Times, Page 1, Tuesday, Oct. 23).

For while there is a clear need to address heating problems, air quality issues and all sorts of other conditions that have gone unaddressed at that building over the last few years, there is no urgent need — and certainly no consensus — to continue forward with a building plan that, as of now, would not even hold the school’s current student enrollment, let alone open the door to the kind of consolidation that’s needed. In that vein, there is absolutely no way that such a project – tentatively pegged at a cost of some $26 million, with more than $13 million of it coming out of city coffers — should ever go forward before the mayor and other city officials get a legitimate sampling of residents’ input through, at the very least, a non-binding referendum in the months ahead.

Kirk noted that, as the project advances, residents will have a chance to speak at public hearings before the City Council, which would have to approve bonding — likely for the full cost before the city would reel in the anticipated 48 percent or greater reimbursement funding from the Massachusetts School Building Administration. And they would have a chance to speak before there is any final design approval for either a new school, or for renovating the current structure, depending on what comes out of the MSBA’s absurdly expensive $500,000 feasibility study.

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