Gloucester has not been shy about hiring consultants and carrying out studies over the past decade, notes James Destino, the city’s chief administrative officer.
“We have a harbor plan, a harbor economic plan, a downtown work plan, an open space and recreation plan, a housing production plan, and a coastal vulnerablity and adaptation plan,” he said, “and every one of them is sitting on a shelf.”
Now, he and Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken want to bring the information and recommendations from those plans to a new project aimed at establishing and prioritizing the city’s needs.
“I don’t want to call it a master plan,” Romeo Theken said Friday. “It’s more of an assessment. We need to do an assessment of our buildings, any land we have and see what we can do. But I want it to be a 10-year plan — and a 10-year plan of action, looking at what we can and need to do next year, then over the next couple of years and then beyond that.”
The mayor and Destino said they plan to form a committee to coordinate development of a city prioritization and project blueprint after the turn of the new year. They said there will be extensive public input as the project evolves. The city will also look to a consultant to coordinate the disparate needs of its schools, development, transportation, parking and waterfront, Romeo Theken said.
The project comes as the city prepares to face a number of decisions, starting with the future of its schools and public safety facilities.
Superintendent Richard Safier said last week that the school district is waiting on the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s findings regarding a proposal to merge East Gloucester and Veterans Memorial schools into a single new elementary school. Under the project, which has the School Committee’s endorsement, the new school would be built on more than 40 acres of city-owned land within Swinson Field and The Pines conservation area. But that site drew widespread opposition when floated this past fall.
School officials have also discussed merging Plum Cove and Beeman Memorial schools into a single, new elementary school that could be built on land behind the current Beeman.
Romeo Theken acknowledged that if those projects become reality, it could free up space for use as a public safety facility.
“Until we decide what we’re going to do with our schools, it’s hard to get going on other things,” she said. “That’s why we need to get action on (school officials’) end, so we can get a sense of what we have or could have for our other needs.”
The city faces a decision this spring regarding a renewal of the lease on the Blackburn Industrial Park building that houses the school administration and pre-school, Destino said. The city leases the site — the former home of the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School — from owner Mick Lafata at a cost of $330,000 a year.
The city also leases office and conference space at 3 Pond Road from the Cape Ann Transportation Authority for $90,000 a year.
It dropped the $14,000-per-month lease it had for 30 months with the Archdiocese of Boston for the old St. Ann School, used to house most of the students from the West Parish area until their new school opened in August.
Romeo Theken said the city especially needs to advance building a new Fire Department headquarters, and that means getting a full assessment of all city-owned properties. She and Destino have also talked of finding space for city-built affordable or workforce housing units for veterans and seniors.
Then there’s the matter of exploring the city-owned I-4, C-2 property on the waterfront, other potential development sites, and transportation and parking issues. Those issues all zoomed into focus in November, when Community Development Director Daniel Smith sought a $400,000 grant for making changes to Tally’s Corner. But the state shot down the bid when a number of residents and then City Council President Joe Ciolino failed to go for a small roundabout at the foot of Washington Street. The traffic change had been a holdover proposal from the 2011 HarborWalk project of then-Mayor Carolyn Kirk.
Destino and the mayor noted that the city can still draw from a Gloucester 2000 master plan effort headed by the late Janice Stelluto.
“She did a wonderful job,” Destino said. “A lot of things happened, and a lot of things didn’t. But we need now to take the best of those ideas, the best of what’s contained in these other studies, and make these decisions. We can’t sit still.”
“We need to get things moving,” said Romeo Theken. “We can get a lot done, but we need to decide what we want to do where — and get moving forward.”
Staff writer Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-675-2705, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.