GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

March 30, 2013

School leaders advance project

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

---- — Gloucester School Committee members and city councilors will carpool to Dedham Monday to view a new school that some say could act as the model for a rebuild they are leaning toward for the West Parish Elementary School.

The school’s architect team, Dore & Whittier Architects Inc., suggested the tour of Dedham’s recently completed Avery Elementary School to the Gloucester school committee as the building designed by Dore & Whittier acts as one of the architects’ certified models for a school. But, City Councilor Bruce Tobey thinks the committee ought to pump the brakes on tours while the city considers options besides a complete rebuild of the West Gloucester school.

”Setting the initial focus on deciding what ‘new model’ school we want to buy is the wrong focus,” Tobey wrote in a My View column to the Times. “It is a mistake to decide which model car we want to buy before we figure out whether buying this new car now is either the right priority or a purchase we can afford in the long run.”

Need for ‘dialogue’

Tobey pointed to what he called “poor planning” on the school committee’s part. He questioned plans for the future of the Fuller School building, and the state’s reimbursement policy for funding potential repairs on that building concerns him. Though the school committee is planning a separate review of the city’s remaining schools, Tobey wants to see how those schools rank before making a decision to replace West Parish with a new building.

“It is time to park this conversation and do a comprehensive review of the total situation with all the facts on the table, with Fuller in play and a real meaningful public dialogue, too,” Tobey said in an interview Friday.

Kathleen Clancy, a school committee member and chair of that panel’s Building and Finance Subcommittee, said a new school building is in order, referencing the Massachusetts School Building Authority statement of interest report that points to various issues.

New ‘access road’

The School Committee has even touched on building a “temporary access road” from the exit ramp for Concord Street to the back of the school site “to help with moving trucks and equipment,” according to March 27 minutes.

The MSBA’s statement of interest lists “inadequacies,” including the lack of art room or media center and a too-small cafeteria space. It also touches on asbestos contamination, which has been sealed up, a leaky roof last repaired in 1988, handicap accessibility issues, and an inadequate security system, with “no funds available for mitigation,” according to the document.

“Our students deserve and require a safe learning environment in which to learn and West Parish is way past its useful life,” Clancy said. “The school is 65 years old and if it’s feasible to renovate a school in that condition and it’s a cost effective solution, we will. But the solution needs to provide a school that lasts for the next 50 years, so the question is What is the best option?”

Though many residents and officials alike have suggested shoring up our schools by repairing doors and adding alarm systems, Clancy said a new building could be designed strategically to provide a safer environment with a receptionist positioned by the front door and other doors and windows strategically placed.

“Those things would be part of the process to make sure we optimize the safety of the building,” Clancy said.

To secure state funding through the MSBA, the School Committee must present three options to the architectural firm for a feasibility study. School committee members said they will review and assess the Fuller School building as an option, though members voted to declare the property excess this winter.

According to Clancy, options will likely focus around different scenarios involving the West Parish property.

“Do we renovate, do we add on, do we do a two-story building or a three-story? Those are the kind of options we’re looking at,” Clancy said.

Second visit

Those thoughts crossed the minds of Clancy and School Committee chair Jonathan Pope when they first visited the new $23.3 million Dedham school Feb. 27. Clancy and Pope were the only two at the initial visit and Pope may return Monday, though Clancy will sit out the second visit to avoid imposing, she said. Clancy already noted what she liked at the school, like the building’s commitment to green energy and a large gymnasium.

“The site visit to the Avery School in Dedham is not a shopping trip, it is intended to give all parties involved a visual idea of what a 21st century learning environment looks like,” Pope wrote in a letter in response to Tobey’s column that appeared n Friday’s Times .

According to Clancy, school committee members Val Gilman, and Roger Garberg, along with Superintendent Richard Safier and City Councilors Greg Verga and Paul McGeary, are expecting to attend. The group will carpool, Clancy said.

In minutes from the same March 27 school committee meeting, Clancy also suggests committee members visit another model school, Burlington’s Memorial Elementary School, though plans have yet to hatch publicly for that visit.

Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at mnesin@gloucestertimes.com.