By Marjorie Nesin
---- — Seeking to relocate the city’s preschool, administrative offices and school bus transportation office —all now situated in the Fuller school building — the city formally requested proposals for a new site to host the programs and offices, posting their request Wednesday morning.
The School Committee had hoped to see preschoolers waving a final goodbye to Fuller at the start of this school year, but now are aiming to empty the Fuller school building by this fall, citing “sporadic” heating in the building, leaks in the infrastructure, handicap accessibility issues and subpar security, according to School Committee Chairman Jonathan Pope.
“Our goal is to not have the preschool in the Fuller building come September,” Pope said. “If we can get the other functions out of there, then that’s a bonus. But we really want to get the preschool out.”
The school committee voted unanimously to issue the request for proposals, which specifies that an applicant’s property should be handicap accessible and available for a three year lease period, with the option to add a one-year renewal twice at the city’s sole discretion. The request for proposals does not specify a square footage request or provide any information about rent pricing.
The state mandates that Gloucester maintain a preschool to serve special needs children between the ages of nearly 3 up to kindergarten age. And that pool is growing in Gloucester, according to Pope, who said 16 or 17 students were referred to the Gloucester preschool in the same period of time that the city has typically seen 6 or 7 referrals.
”There was a big jump. We’re expecting more kids anyway, which makes it even more urgent that we have a facility,” Pope said.
The School Committee had applied for a grant to move the preschool into the Pathways building on Emerson Avenue, but that grant was denied, according to Pope. Without the grant, the city did not have funds to renovate the unfinished portions of the Pathways building where they had hoped to relocate, which left the committee searching hurriedly for solutions, Pope said.
”We went around in circles and circles ... and realistically we went about it the wrong way,” Pope conceded. “We were into the school year and it was kind of we’re not going to get out of there so let’s just make the best of it.”
In January, the School Committee declared the Fuller school building “surplus,” but created a memorandum of agreement with the city that allowed the preschool, administrative offices and school transportation offices to remain in the Fuller building until the committee could make more suitable arrangements.
The preschool program currently hosts about 70 to 75 kids, with some attending only in mornings, others coming for afternoons and some students spending the entire day in the program. Those students and the administrative offices fill about 17,000 square feet of the Fuller School building, according to Pope. The transportation office requires another small space, a bus parking area, and a drivers’ break room, he said.
When asked about the building that previously housed the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School at 2 Blackburn Dr., Pope said the 21,290 square foot space might be a bit large, but “that doesn’t matter if the price is right,” he said.
”We’re going fishing to see what’s out there and hopefully there’s going to be something out there,” Pope said. “Hopefully we’ll get two or three possibilities and we’ll look at them and choose the best option.”
Mick Lafata, property owner of the former charter school building, said he started receiving phone calls from Gloucester friends hours after the city released their request for proposals Wednesday morning.
”All I know is that I’ve got a brand-new facility I’d like to lease out particularly to a school,” Lafata said Wednesday. “It would be perfect and it’s just getting past that stigma that 2 Blackburn Drive is associated with the charter school. The charter school is not there anymore so it’s time to be rented out.”
Lafata said he has recently met with one educational group and one religious group, both interested in renting the property. Lafata said he plans to submit a proposal to the city in hopes of drawing in the preschool and other uses.
Proposals to the city are due by May 3, and the school committee aims to choose a proposal in time to include leasing costs in their budget, due for a City Council vote at the end of June.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.