By Marjorie Nesin
---- — A Gloucester School Committee choice to move forward with building on the existing West Parish school site to save money and increase safety will force a relocation of pupils for two full years beginning in September 2014 to a site the city has yet to pin down.
But officials are talking about moving students to a building in the Cape Ann Industrial Park.
Owners of the former ITT Rule building on Kondelin Road, located within two miles of West Parish, responded to the city’s request for proposals with an offer of their property, which presents itself as a large open space with a parking lot, but no existing playground area.
The City’s Chief Administrative Officer Jim Duggan said Thursday that the city is considering “all options,” though it is not considering a temporary move into the former Fuller School because of what he classified as the $5 million cost of repairs to bring the building up to the Americans with Disabilities Act’s accessibility code.
“We’re leaving all doors open and we’re exploring every single opportunity that there is,” Duggan said.
The School Committee had decided to build on the existing West Parish site after finding it more cost effective, safer, and a more efficient use of space than an alternative of building a school in front of or behind the existing building, then tearing down the current school at the new school’s completion.
The deadline to respond to a request for proposals that the city distributed last week, originally set for mid-September, was re-slated for Nov. 8 to encourage additional applications. The city is seeking a three-year lease with a one-year renewal option at a space that would accommodate both the estimated 380 West Parish students and the facilities department, which is currently located at the Fuller school building.
The city asks that the lease site be handicap accessible, available well before the start of the 2014-2015 school year and provide space for cars and buses. Officials are searching for an educational site that offers about 45,000 square feet and can hold 21 classrooms, 10 administrative spaces, a cafeteria and gym space, and 10,000 feet for the facilities department.
Funding for any necessary changes to a chosen site would be negotiated between the city and the property owner on a case-by-case basis.
A group out of North Carolina called Prime Vendor Inc. has also presented the city with a proposal. The same group had asked for more information when the city put the Maplewood Avenue School up for sale in January 2012. No further information on the out-of-state group was immediately available.
When comparing respondents, building owners with proposed property within the West Parish School District, with facilities that meet all expectations, are available by January, and offer adequate parking will receive a “highly advantageous” ranking, according to the request for proposals.
But, the most important factor, according to Duggan and School Committee Chair Jonathan Pope, is that the West Parish school children move together rather than disperse.
“The one thing that parents of West Parish students were really emphatic about is that all the students were kept together,” Pope said.
Pope said the School Committee would have liked to utilize the St. Ann School building, but the building is not ADA approved and the space would not fit all of West Parish’s students. No matter where the students move, he said, staying with their classmates should ease any transition.
“It’s going to be the same teachers, the same administration. I don’t see any problem there,” Pope said.
The former ITT Rule property had, for years, housed the West Gloucester company that revolutionized the bilge pump and became a leading marine equipment manufacturer and innovator from its home in Cape Ann Industrial Park.
But the plant’s corporate parent company announced in June 2009 it would be moving Rule’s production line to Mexico, and carried out the changes over the following year. The company took 87 local jobs with it, setting up shop in the north central Mexico city of Chihuahua.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at email@example.com.