Gloucester school officials, seeking a suitable place to house West Parish’s 360 or so students for two years or more during construction of their new elementary school on the same site, is seeking $10,000 for a study to inspect the former Fuller School and gauge what it might cost to get it open as a transition space.
Three groups to date have shown interest in meeting the city’s needs, school officials said: Kondelin Road Realty Trust, the owner of the former ITT Rule building on Kondelin Road; the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, which would likely offer the now-vacant St. Ann School; and a North Carolina search firm that’s expected to shop the city’s request for proposals to potential bidders.
But the School Committee’s building subcommittee members met Wednesday night to address the issue and are further considering the former Fuller school building as “swing space” for students while a new, planned $30 million elementary school is built on the current West Parish footprint.
While there is no option to use the Fuller building on next week’s nonbinding question on the election ballot, officials scheduled a full School Committee meeting for Monday at 4:45 p.m. at the school administration offices to approve a $10,000 request to carry out the proposed inspection of the former school and assess the costs of making it usable as a “swing school.”
The School Committee unanimously voted to declare the building as surplus earlier this year.
School Committee Jonathan Pope outlined the other sites.
“Kondelin Road is great big open space, and St. Ann’s is a school,” he said, adding that the city’s own inspection services have been through each site already.
The time frame for finding space for West Parish students is shrinking, with proposals from potential bidders due by Nov. 8, but with local officials needing to have a transitional plan in place to present to the Massachusetts School Building Authority by Dec. 12.
Gloucester’s purchasing agent, Donna Compton, said that, while the three potential suitors have taken out the city’s RFP, no proposals have yet to be turned back in — though she said it’s not unusual for proposals to arrive right on or just prior to the deadline.
“We’re talking about starting this project ... right around the corner, “ Pope said. “We’ve got to have a place for the kids to be (next) September.”
The Fuller building has been eyed by some — notably former mayor and outgoing councilor-at-large Bruce Tobey — as a potential long-term piece of Gloucester’s school system, but officials have said that could cost some $68 million.
The problem with Fuller, Pope said, is that officials do not know how much it would cost to bring the building up to code for even short-term use, or how long that process would take.
That’s why the School Committee is seeking a study of the property, tapping architectural firm Dore and Whittier, which had previously examined the former school building. The study is estimated to cost $10,000, Pope said.
One option would call for the School Committee fronting the money, with the condition the city pay back the committee with free cash, in order to avoid taking the money out of a stabilization fund, Pope said.
Committee member Val Gilman outlined what the School Committee is seeking from the architectural firm.
“We would want to do the minimal changes to make the building safe for a swing school, with nothing additional,” she said.
Pope added that Fuller would see the same treatment from city inspection services as the former ITT Rule building and the former St. Ann School, which was just closed by the archdiocese this past June.
Officials also had concerns about the handicapped-accessibility of each site.
“None of the options are going to be ‘just perfect,’” Pope said.
Even though school officials are weighing their options with the Fuller building, none of them said there was a frontrunner for a swing school yet.
“It’s an option,” School Committee member Tony Gross said. “I can see it as an expensive venture, but we own the building.”
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.