One of the consistent arguments cited by those opposed to a new elementary school in Gloucester is that teachers, not buildings, are the real key to an excellent education.

We couldn’t agree more.

That’s why we are urging Gloucester residents to vote yes on Question 3, which would give those educators the tools they need to provide a first-rate education to the next generation of elementary school students. Teachers currently working in the East Gloucester and Veterans elementary schools are hamstrung my crowded spaces, failing heating and cooling systems and an infrastructure that can’t handle the technological demands of a 21st century education. That should come as no surprise, as the schools were built when Harry Truman was president, when only 1 in 5 American households had a television and the notion of a home computer was relegated to the fringes of fantasy fiction. Post-World War II schools were utilitarian structures; they never anticipated the advent of the internet or the importance of STEM education.

To carry the analogy further: No one would disagree with the notion that doctors and nurses are at the heart of great medical care. No matter how talented those healers are, however, there’s no one who would send their loved ones for treatment at a 70-year-old hospital that hasn’t been upgraded in decades.

Gloucester voters have an opportunity to rectify the situation by approving a debt exclusion override that would help pay for a new elementary school. The $66.7 million project would replace two outdated elementary schools -- East Gloucester and Veterans Memorial -- with a single state-of-the-art school on the Veterans site. A full $26.9 million will be paid for by the state from its school building assistance fund. The bottom line is that a Gloucester resident with a home assessed at $400,000 would end up paying an additional $80 a year.

That’s a relatively small price to pay to make sure kids don’t have to wear coats and hats in the classroom during the winter months, or work in the hallways, or explore a 21st century world in a school built during the Cold War.

There are those who argue that it would be best to wait, as the city grapples with other spending challenges amid an ongoing pandemic. Waiting, however, only delays the inevitable. The schools must be replaced — simply renovating them would cost more than a new school, and building a new school five or 10 years from now would be significantly more expensive, especially with no guarantee of state money. The city has some of the highest water and sewer bills in the country precisely because city leaders didn’t confront the issue head on decades ago. That mistake must not be repeated in 2020.

It is unfortunate that the location of the proposed new school would mean an end to Mattos Field, especially after so much effort was spent rehabilitating it over the past several years. But the field’s playing grounds will be replicated off Green Street, and the East Gloucester School site will become open space. And it is incumbent on our elected officials to ensure city property is used to its highest purpose.

Pandemic aside, this should be an exciting, optimistic time for those interested in Gloucester’s schools. The city made a significant investment in the West Parish School, which was rebuilt in 2016. There are plans to upgrade or replace the Beeman and Plum Cove schools once the proposed project is completed. The district’s standardized test scores have steadily improved over the past decade, and innovative STEM education -- much of it tied to the city’s maritime history -- is taking place at all grade levels. 

This is a watershed moment for education in Gloucester. City residents need to decide whether they want to continue the progress that has been made over the past decade.  A yes vote on Question 3 is an important step in maintaining that momentum.

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