GLOUCESTER – The city's newest elementary school will sit on what today is a softball field adjacent to the existing Veterans Elementary School if voters agree to fund the project.
The site off Webster Street emerged from an initital list of nine locations evaluated by the School Building Committee, which unanimously approved the final location Thursday. Prior to Thursday's meeting, the committee had winnowed the list to two potential locations – the Veterans site and land off Green Street near the Gloucester Crossing retail complex.
"This is a major milestone in our project...to make sure our kids are well-served," Kathleen Clancy, a member of the Building Committee and School Committee, said after the vote.
The target opening date for the 440-student school, which would replace the existing Veterans Elementary School and East Gloucester Elementary School, is fall 2023. If voters approve borrowing beyond the cap imposed by the tax-limiting law known as Proposition 2 1/2, the state will fund a significant portion of the project. If voters decline to fund the project, it dies. School officials have said renovating East Gloucester and Veterans Schools would be prohibitively expensive.
The most-current cost estimate for building a new school at Veterans is $72.8 million, about $4 million more than the estimate for the Green Street site.
In choosing the Veterans site, the Committee acknowledged the city will need to build a replacement softball field elsewhere. Committee members said other factors over-rode concerns about the Veteranss site's higher cost and softball field challenge. Among factors committee member listed last night:
- Neither site was more suitable than the other based on the School Department's goals.
- Neighbors around Veterans are used to living near a school while residents near the Green Street site would be losing open space. Committee chairman Jonathan Pope noted that choosing the Veterans site also would allow continuity for many of the students attending the new school while choosing the Green Street location would mean sending all students to a new school. "That's a real factor. We're not changing anything for Veterans students. They're going to the same place," he said.
- Building a school on Green Street would require negotiating access through adjacent commercial property.
- Building near Veterans would generate less environmental impact.
- Traffic and development could increase substantially near the Green Street site but are less likely near the Veterans site.
The lead architect on the project, Michele Barbaro Rogers of Dore & Whittier Architects Inc. of Newburyport, said the building for either location would have been identical. The latest plans call for an 89,000-square-foot building that would allow: four classes per grade; a kitchen and cafeteria sufficient to serve the entire student body in two seatings; a performance space; dedicated space for art, music and gym classes; and appropriate facilities for special education students.
The selection of the Veterans site drew instant criticism from several of the roughly two dozen residents who attended Thursday's meeting. Several expressed dismay at losing Mattos Field, the newly refurbished and lighted softball field next to the Veterans school.
"It's a sad day in Gloucester," said Patti Amaral. A group opposed to the Veterans site is planning a rally there Friday evening.
The process going forward includes a formal vote by the School Committee on Oct. 9 followed by several steps involving the City Council, the architect and the state School Building Authority. After that, the city must secure voter approval.