The Fuller School site has been discussed for at least the last five years as a potential location of a new combined public safety building that could serve as headquarters for the Police and Fire departments and the Fire Department’s ambulance crews.
And it may indeed prove the best site, with certainly better overall access from off Blackburn Circle to most of the city than from the outdated current Central Station on School Street. Plus, according to a study by the quasi-public agency MassDevelopment, a new facility at that location could be built with the existing Fuller School structure still in place.
But Mayor Carolyn Kirk and other City Hall officials may be jumping the gun by sending out a formal request for proposals (RFP) seeking a project manager for a public safety building construction given that there have been no recent hearings on such a proposal in light of other Fuller site issues, and given that city voters are expected to face a November ballot referendum regarding the future use of Fuller altogether — even if it is nonbinding.
Considering that the potential project may not include a Proposition 21/2 override, that subtly means that the mayor and other administration officials will not need to go to a binding citywide referendum on this project any more than they will on a proposed new West Parish School.
And that, combined with seeking a project manager, again sends the dangerous message that the administration is looking to go forward with this project without the level of community — or, in this case, even City Council input — that city voters and taxpayers expect and deserve.
The owners project manager, as sought in the RFP, would assess the move’s impact on Gloucester’s emergency response times. And that is the kind of basic data the city should have before diving into any such building proposal.
Indeed, if the city consistently opens — or should we say reopens — the Magnolia Fire Station, as the department restructuring and new firefighters’ contract should allow, the response times to most other parts of the city should be better than they are now.
Yet there are other locations that have occasionally been on the potential drawing boards, notably a site at the Head of the Harbor at Gordon Thomas Park off East Main and Parker streets.
Kirk says that “the only way we would consider other sites is if the site assessment ruled out this (Fuller) site.” Yet shouldn’t that decision be made with input from residents before the city essentially hires a Fuller project manager?
It’s important to note that, as outlined by MassDevelopment and pursued by the mayor, a public safety building on the Fuller School land, by leaving the building intact, would not rule out other uses for the building or for that property.
That means the site could seemingly still accommodate Gloucester’s City Hall offices, as other officials and residents have proposed, a new Cape Ann YMCA, one of the other choices under consideration, or, yes, even a school facility — the option a number of residents would clearly like to explore, but that the administration and School Committee like to pretend no longer even exists.
But these are decisions that should be made through a voter referendum — nonbinding or otherwise. And it’s in that vein that this RFP for a project manager looms as being akin to putting the cart before the Fuller horse.
Let’s hold off on deciding on a manager until residents — and, yes, city councilors — at least have a legitimate voice in deciding on the project itself.