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April 3, 2013

Tobey eyes ballot question on school

As the School Committee works through the steps to replace or repair Gloucester’s West Parish school, with bonding for the project eventually requiring a city council vote, one city councilor is proposing to ask residents whether they want to see the project push forward with new school construction.

At-large city councilor and former four-term mayor Bruce Tobey has submitted an order for the council to vote on placing the potential school construction question on the November ballot, intended to spark discussion and promote planning for future uses of city-owned past and present elementary school buildings.

The question would be non-binding, as an advisory ballot question, Tobey said.

“(But) this is not to pass the buck to the voters,” Tobey said. “The council is charged to make decisions with comprehensive community planning and broad community input.”

Tobey called for the council vote on implementing the proposed ballot question on the same day that city and school officials attended a tour at a new Dedham elementary school that could act as the official model for a rebuild of the West Parish Elementary School.

The following day, school officials, including School Committee Chairman Jonathan Pope, met with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), the state organization that will reimburse the city for 48.27 percent of a school build or renovation that the MSBA would pre-approve.

The School Committee’s contracted architect, Dore & Whittier Architects Inc., will now create a feasibility study featuring three options for construction or renovation. The MSBA must approve those options if the city intends to seek the state’s funding.

“We’re in the step of developing three possibilities for replacing West Parish and those three could include anything that (the architects) come up with,” Pope said. “The considerations are the financial feasibility of each project and the educational demand being met.”

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