By Marjorie Nesin
---- — Just a week after city councilors voted to ask city residents what to do with the Fuller school building, Mayor Carolyn Kirk has vetoed the idea of a non-binding 2013 referendum question on Fuller’s future, calling at least one of the multiple choice options “inappropriate.”
Kirk primarily rejected one of the three referendum options — renewing the building’s use as a public school —telling the Gloucester School Committee Wednesday night that, since the committee had already decided against reusing Fuller as a school, that’s not a viable option.
“It’s grossly misleading to the public, should that option prevail, that the School Committee would reopen a policy that’s been set in stone,” Kirk said. “It’s just inappropriate.”
The mayor also voiced her opposition to the other two options, one being to relocate all of the municipal offices to the Fuller school building, the other to lease or sell the property. The proposed council referendum does not include an option for using the site as a combined public safety complex — a police and fire headquarters — though that has been one of the proposals bandied about over the past year.
City councilors had voted last week in favor of posing the three-pronged referendum, with eight voting in favor of petitioning residents and City Councilor Joseph Ciolino, the sole vote in opposition. The council can also vote to override the mayor’s veto, and carry the referendum forward.
In a letter to the councilors, Kirk wrote that the relocation of municipal offices would not work because the municipal offices only require about 50,000 square feet of space — leaving 125,000 square feet of unused space still remaining in Fuller. Kirk also pointed out the city’s ongoing $4.1 million investment in restoring City Hall. Plus, she added the change would harmfully impact the downtown area.
Kirk’s office had circulated a survey asking a similar question of Gloucester residents, and received about 800 responses. But that’s a number that City Councilor Greg Verga said is far too low to gauge residents’ desires.
“I did not have much faith in this survey,” said Verga, who was behind the council’s call for a Fuller referendum. “And having only 807 respondents — 46 of which do not live in Gloucester — it is evident that this is insufficient to reach a conclusion of the public’s support.”
Verga said he is vying for the option of the municipal building relocating to the Fuller school building, but no matter the outcome, he’s pleased at the prospect of a referendum.
“A ballot question will provide a definitive gauge of public opinion,” Verga said.
Kirk’s survey found that many residents, when they make trips to City Hall, visit downtown stores and shops in the same outing; the survey also found that most respondents were opposed to the idea of a retail store complex at the Fuller building.
Though the city councilors’ proposed referendum also does not specify the third survey option, to sell or lease the property to retail stores, Kirk rejected the option because of its broad nature.
“There will be no way to glean a meaningful interpretation of the results of this option should it prevail,” Kirk wrote.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.