To the editor:

I’m writing in response to Gordon Baird’s column about the East Gloucester School building project (“You’ve got to ask the questions,” Aug. 12).

Mr. Baird’s piece skews the facts and misses the boat on what this project is really about: the future of our children and our wonderful city. If we turn our back on this project, our kids, teachers and community will suffer for decades to come.

As a parent of three children who attend Gloucester Schools and a volunteer on the committee for the new school building project, I can assure you what this school project is really about.

This project is about one new school. Far from a “rushed” solution, this process began over five years ago when the buildings in our school district were assessed and East Gloucester Elementary School was found to be the building in greatest need.

What does that mean exactly? Just ask the principal at East Gloucester. Pay her a visit and check out the unusual paperweight on her desk. It’s a chunk of rough wood that fell out of the aging cafeteria ceiling a few years ago and crashed to the floor. Thank goodness there wasn’t a five-year old child underneath when it fell. She keeps it on her desk as a daily reminder to keep fighting for the school that she knows her students and teachers deserve.

Dangerous, deteriorating ceilings are just one of the issues that our kids and teachers face every day. East Gloucester’s student body has far outgrown the building, which was built just after World War II in 1948. Based on the way schools are built today, East Gloucester is sized to serve 149 children, but our student body is far beyond that at 210.

Undersized classrooms mean that our kids have to squeeze into hallways to meet with their reading groups. Kids with learning disabilities have to go out in the same hallways for “confidential” meetings with specialists, a distracting setup that is far from confidential, not to mention against the city’s fire code.

Mechanical, electrical and HVAC systems in the building are over 70 years old and badly deteriorated, which means our kids and teachers are consistently either too hot or too cold, which makes learning tough for any child.

The technology infrastructure at East Gloucester is so old it can’t support the modern networking equipment and computers that kids in other districts use to learn every day.

Perhaps most important, our school is woefully behind when it comes to security. In today’s horrifying reality of mass shootings across the country, our kids deserve the safest building we can provide.

Because of these serious deficiencies, East Gloucester was selected from a pool of 90 schools as one of only 17 in the entire state that qualifies for funding assistance from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA). Another of our elementary schools, Veterans Memorial, struggles with facility issues similar to East Gloucester, and the MSBA is willing to consider a combined new school, which would double the number of Gloucester kids who would benefit from learning in a new building.

If we don’t support this project, we won’t receive state funding assistance, which means we’d leave millions of dollars on the table. Our schools will continue to deteriorate but we will be forced to foot the bill on our own. I don’t think Gloucester can afford that, do you?

Over the last five years, the Building Committee has spent hundreds of hours reviewing sites throughout the City, discussing the educational needs of our children and teachers, and studying what other communities have done to improve their school buildings. The meetings have been covered in this newspaper and posted on the school district’s website. Gloucester residents have come to the meetings and shared their opinions, for and against. This has been a thoughtful, thorough process, driven by volunteers who care about our kids and the future of our city.

Our kids’ educational needs are not being met. They deserve better. Their teachers deserve better. What Gloucester needs is a safe, modern learning environment for our kids so their teachers can give them the education they deserve. That’s what this project is about.

Aria McElhenny

Gloucester

 

Recommended for you