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December 19, 2012

Fuller's future merits voters' referendum voice

The shut down of heat and convenient water service to workers in Gloucester’s school bus transportation headquarters in the Fuller School building is just the latest chapter in a messy deadlock over what can or should become of what had been one of the city’s best-built school facilities.

And that gridlock shows no signs of abating, with the School Committee still retaining control over the facility while City Hall and Gloucester’s taxpayers remain forced to provide and pay for its upkeep.

But while the heat and water shutoffs raise all sorts of concerns regarding the building’s viability as a workplace – let alone the city’s preschool, though that’s in a different part of the building — the City Council has made the right choice by bringing the future of the building to the public by virtue of a non-binding referendum that will appear on the city election ballot a mere 11 months from now.

As of now, the question will ask residents to choose from among three options:

Whether they want to relocate all municipal offices to the Fuller complex;

Whether they would like to revert the Fuller building back to use as a public school — presumably as a consolidated elementary school that would finally address the city school district’s excessive building space;

Whether the city should lease or sell the property.

There are, of course, other potential uses, including its use as a new facility for the Cape Ann YMCA, which the Y and Mayor Carolyn Kirk have explored in the past. And there is ample time for the council to adjust the petition and the question.

Government by referendum can raise some red flags in and of itself, and yes, the question will be non-binding. Voters, after all, elect their councilors, mayor and School Committee members to make important decisions, up to and including on issues such as this.

But there are issues that deserve as thorough a sense of input from the community as possible — a level input best achieved by putting a question out for an all-day referendum, binding or otherwise.

Fuller’s future can affect the city’s school, public safety and really just about any and all municipal services and accessibility. That makes this one issue that deserves a place on the ballot.

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