Two sites being vetted for school swing space

MIKE SPRINGER/Staff file photo/Gloucester is looking at leasing the old St. Ann School, pictured, at Pleasant and Prospect streets from the Archdiocese of Boston or space from Pathways for Children on Emerson Avenue to house Veterans Memorial Elementary School pupils and staff while a new school is built.

A vacant school building in downtown Gloucester and the headquarters of a local non-profit have been pinned as potential sites for swing space during construction of a new elementary school. 

St. Ann Catholic School at the corner of Pleasant and Prospect streets and Pathways for Children at 29 Emerson Ave. are being vetted by the city's School Committee and architectural designers Dore & Whittier as temporary housing for the pupils and staff of Veterans Memorial Elementary School. 

The temporary housing is needed for two years as the city builds a new school to replace Veterans Memorial and East Gloucester elementary schools on the Veterans site at 11 Webster St. East Gloucester pupils and staff will remain in their building until the new school is finished, after which East Gloucester is slated for demolition.

Pathways has offered a rent of $20,000 a month while the Archdiocese of Boston has put the use of the St. Ann facility at $19,000 a month, city CFO John Dunn outlined Tuesday.

The two options were announced Tuesday morning during the school district's Request-for-Proposal (RFP) Review Sub-Committee meeting. The committee had a preliminary discussion of both buildings, and what the process looks like going forward. 

"This is a big change for teachers and families," Superintendent Ben Lummis said  Tuesday morning. "The more we can make this transition easy and enjoyable and keep the community cohesive and together."

School district administrators want the temporary space to have 13 classrooms and five spaces for small group instruction; space for art, music, physical education and lunch; and office space for administrators, speech and language, counseling, nursing, and psychological services. The cost for the space must also fall within the $1 million budgeted for the lease.

The swing space must also minimize the need for transportation and be in proximity to the Veterans school zone, be prepared for occupancy by the property owner, and must be ready by July for staff and students. 

Pathways

While both sites have pros and cons, the Review Committee listed quite a few downsides to choosing the Pathways location.

“Pathways is a great facility, but definitely has some challenges on sizes of some rooms which are pretty obvious,” Lummis said. 

School Committee member Kathy Clancy said Pathways was “very community minded” as it wanted to fill a need by offering the extra space at its property. 

“But it probably doesn’t fit all of the needs,” she said. 

Besides the limited space and the fact that the building would be shared with Pathways, the limited number of bathrooms was a concern.  

Pathways’ proposal, as explained  Tuesday, would offer two bathrooms for school use.

“Seems like a small piece, but I don’t think it is actually functional because of the limited bathrooms,” Lummis added.  

Parking was an additional concern as Pathways could offer limited spaces with potentially additional spots at the high school. 

St. Ann School

Transitioning to the St. Ann proposal, the committee considered the building’s location ideal. 

"It really is a centralized location," Veterans Memorial Principal Matt Fusco said. "In some respect, it would pick up a lot of kids that are on the outskirts of our district right now." 

There had been leakage of St. Ann's roof, Dunn said, but a roofer was hired by Dore & Whittier and that problem was fixed. 

While both locations have seen children run through their halls, Lummis is wondering if the vacant school would be the better fit given its history. 

When West Parish Elementary School was being rebuilt at 10 Concord St. four years ago, the school's community moved to St. Ann. In 2016, the district leased St. Ann from the Archdiocese of Boston for 30 months at $14,000 per month, and spent an added $1.4 million on bringing the building up to code. 

“It seems to me to continue to use St. Ann we continue to use that investment that the city has made,” Lummis explained. “We get more value out of that the more we use the building.”

COVID-19's impact

The committee is waiting on Dore & Whittier to present its evaluation of both sites. 

As building a new school comes with a lot of moving pieces, one topic at the forefront of everyone’s minds is how COVID-19 will affect the school district’s plans.  

“Everybody has just been watching and waiting,” Fusco said. “There is a lot of uncertainty overall I would say. We are just trying to get through the next round of vaccinations, and things will be clearer in the spring.”

“We don’t really know what September will look like,” he added. 

While many things are unknown as of Tuesday, the school district is shooting to vote on Jan. 27 on which building they believe should be the official swing space for the Veterans Memorial community. 

Taylor Ann Bradford can be reached at 978-675-2705 or tbradford@gloucestertimes.com.

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