State to see nine options for new school

PAUL BILODEAU/Staff file photo/Green Street neighbors are worried how plans for a new combined elementary school could impact Green Street Park and the neighboring sports field. Two other sites are under consideration.

Gloucester school officials are poised to submit as many as nine options for a new East Gloucester school to the state agency that dispenses cost reimbursements for construction and renovation projects.

All the options focus on three sites: the current East Gloucester and Veterans Memorial elementary school properties and a patchwork of city-owned parcels at the Green Street field. 

The timing of the submissions is geared toward placing a Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion override before the city's voters in May or June of 2020, said Jonathan Pope, chairman of the School and East Gloucester School Building committees.

"That's the time frame we're shooting for right now," he said, even with reimbursement and the site and specific design of a new or renovated school up in the air. "Something could go wrong or change, but that's our goal at this point. It's going to require a debt exclusion as part of the financial package."

Under a debt exclusion, voters give permission for a city or town to temporarily lift the state's Proposition 2 1/2 tax cap to fund a major project, with the tax levy returning to its previous level once the project is paid off. Under a more traditional override, the tax cap is lifted, then remains at the higher level from that point on.

The School Committee  is looking to send the options to the Massachusetts School Building Authority. The MSBA requires school districts to explore a wide range of choices for pursuing any project for which a community is seeking state reimbursement. The committee has expressed a desire to merge the current enrollments of East Gloucester and Veterans into a new single, 440-student school.

Proposed are:

Six options for the East Gloucester school site: Build a new, merged East Gloucester/Veterans school; build a new facility that would just serve East Gloucester; build an addition onto the current school that would just serve East Gloucester; build an addition to create a merged East Gloucester/Veterans; renovate the current East Gloucester; or simply upgrade East Gloucester's existing facilities.

At Veterans Memorial site, build a new, merged East Gloucester/Veterans school.

Two options for Green Street/Schoolhouse Road: Build one of two variations of a new, merged East Gloucester/Veterans facility off Schoolhouse Road behind the Gloucester Crossing complex. One location would leave more trees as green space, the other would take down more trees but leave more of the existing field, said Pope and Kathleen Clancy,  a School Committee liaison to the building panel. Both options would sit along a string of 23 parcels seized by the city years ago for nonpayment of property taxes that extend for some 14 acres below the Green Street playground.

The choices include variables tied to MSBA regulations and the city's pursuit of the project.

While the city could build a new or renovate a school that would just serve families whose children attend East Gloucester, it could not do so in simply replacing Veterans. The city prioritized East Gloucester and applied for replacing or renovating it, but not Veterans, Pope noted. So the MSBA's approvals granted to Gloucester are geared only toward that goal, though building a merged school would be eligible as an East Gloucester replacement.

The Newburyport firm of Dore & Whittier Architects, which designed the new West Parish Elementary School, is heading up design of the East Gloucester project and is preparing the submissions to the MSBA. Dore & Whittier is to present the options -- without a firm design or pricing -- to the City Council at its meeting Tuesday, July 9.

Pope emphasized that, while the council does not have approval authority over a school project, the School Committee is looking for an endorsement of the project concept.

"That will help us in going forward," he said.

Neither the city nor Dore & Whittier have put a price tag on any of the options. The city's most recent estimate came in late 2016, when – amid early building discussions – John Dunn, the city's chief financial officer, projected that a new school building merging the East Gloucester and Veterans enrollments would cost in the range of $59 million.

Pope said any updated cost and a solidified design will have to come after the MSBA reviews the options.

The School Committee hopes to have the design and site chosen with a cost in place by April, Pope said. That would clear the way for a debt exclusion vote held through a special election roughly 10 to 11 months from now.

Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-675-2705, or rlamont@gloucestertimes.com.

New school options

What:  Dore & Whittier Architects is to present nine options -- without a firm design or pricing -- for a new East Gloucester elementary school to the City Council during its regular meeting. While the council does not have approval authority over the project, the School Committee is looking for an endorsement of the concept.

When: Council meets Tuesday, July 9, from 7 to 10 p.m.

Where: Kyrouz Auditorium, City Hall, 9 Dale Ave.