With news that the state has temporarily paused its funding for Gloucester’s proposed elementary school project, the City Council has scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday to discuss what is going on.
Council President Steve LeBlanc sent a letter Wednesday, April 28, to Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken requesting that she attend a council executive session via remote meeting to discuss why her office didn’t “promptly and formally communicate/share the important information from the MSBA with the full City Council promptly when received on April 15.”
The letter from the Massachusetts School Building Authority put the city on notice that any possible reimbursement in project costs from it were on hold because the project to build a new school to house the students of Veterans Memorial and East Gloucester elementary schools was the subject of an active lawsuit.
LeBlanc did not return the Times’ call requesting comment on when the council did receive the letter and from whom.
The desired discussion Tuesday — the virtual meeting starts at 6 p.m. — comes as the city has chosen to go forward with the design and construction of the new elementary school. Once it receives a statement confirming that the project is no longer the subject of any pending litigation, the MSBA will sign a project funding agreement with the city to reimburse up to $26.9 million of the $66.7 million project costs.
LeBlanc, who sent the letter to all his fellow councilors as well the mayor, is also requesting a complete update on the civil action related to the project (Amaral v. City of Gloucester), an accounting of all expenses to date and a time table for future expenses for the project, an outline and timetable of any possible appeals depending on outcome by either side, and a schedule of demolition of Veterans Memorial School.
In the interim, while the city navigates the suit filed by open space champion Patti Amaral and other Gloucester residents over the construction of the new school, it plans to keep to its original project schedule.
“The letter that we received from MSBA confirmed that they are still on board and that we are still going through the process,” School Committee Chairman Jonathan Pope said at Wednesday’s School Committee meeting.
“We are in the process of permitting,” Pope said, explaining that the project is seeking a zoning variance on for the city’s height restriction. That request will go before City Council’s Planning and Development Committee during a remote meeting (https://gloucester-ma-gov.zoom.us/j/85979113197) on May 5 at 5:30 p.m. .
Pope added that the process of an environmental review has gone through the state and it has been deemed by the state Department of Environmental Protection that an environmental study is not needed for the new school site at 11 Webster St.
The city is also preparing an early bid package which includes the documents as it relates to the demolition of Veterans Memorial and the site work so “that it can be put out for bid when the time is right,” Pope said.
In preparation for the project, St. Ann School — which will be house Veterans Memorial students and teachers during construction — is ongoing. New exterior doors are being installed and the preparation to begin some repair work on floors. East Gloucester Elementary pupils and staff will remain in their building until the new school opens.
“Things are moving on,” Pope said.
Staff writer Taylor Ann Bradford can be reached at 978-675-2705 or firstname.lastname@example.org.