Reardon: We could rename school after fallen war hero
A proposal to build a new McKinley School at either Hill Park, the Henry Della Russo Stadium, or on the current school site remains in the planning stages without a decision. But a meeting of the City Council’s Parks and Recreation Subcommittee in the City Hall Council Chamber Monday night provided some councillors a chance to air their grievances about the proposal, especially about building on Hill Park.
They met to discuss a motion raised by Ward 6 Councillor Charles Patch at the council meeting last week, which was designed to inform the superintendent of schools that the city council has, along with the Parks and Recreation Authority and State Legislature, authority to abandon city park land for the school.
“When the issue started months ago with McKinley, the majority of councillors at the time said Hill Park was not an option. Now that's not what we hear. It's the only option,” said Ward 6 Councillor Charles Patch. He also said that he would like to see the park remain in its current location (out of respect for the Hill family). The park also has a special place in the councillor's heart, since he played softball and basketball there and in the McKinley playground while growing up, he said.
“I'm not trying to save it for me,” Patch continued. “For people in this area—from the Parkway, the Revere-Chelsea line, and down to Bell Circle—Hill Park is the only green area. What do you say to future generations who will grow up [there without the park]?… Once it's gone, it's gone. There's no alternative for these kids.”
Councillor-at-Large John Correggio agreed: “That's really the last open space in the city for accessibility for children.” Revere does not have the luxury of park space like one can find in Everett or Malden, he added.
To preserve the park, Patch said the best option for the new McKinley School is to rebuild it on the current location. Correggio concurred, saying a build there “is workable [and] This day and age, you need to build up, add a story,” referring to the proposed four-story structure that would replace the old McKinley site.
Patch continued: “The school department says we have no say in the matter. We have the right and final say on whether to swap Hill Park with another area. Is it legal to put the park at St. Mary's? They don’t even own the land.” The entire process, he opined, has been rushed. And Patch wasn't alone in that assessment.
Councillor-at-Large Brian Arrigo criticized the process: “If we want the best school, we should have done a hell of a lot more planning.” Arrigo's chief concerns are that the cost estimates, such as the $750,000 to replace Hill Park, are probably way under the total cost. The drainage system—county ditch—underneath Hill Park, he added, will also pose a problem to the finances, since the cost to move it, if need be, has not been reflected in the estimates.
And the project may have an adverse effect upon traffic in the area, Arrigo said. Speaking at the meeting, Police Chief Joseph Cafarelli estimated that Park Ave. experiences an average of 56,000 cars per day when school is not in session.
When Arrigo asked the chief if the school department has asked about traffic impact or a traffic plan, he replied, “no.”
“It is frustrating as a newly-elected member that there is a lack of planning,” Arrigo said.
Ward 2 Councillor Ira Novoselsky dug in his heels: “No way I'll give up Hill Park; no way will I give up the stadium unless they find a suitable spot.”
He recalled a similar case when building of the Garfield School required use of some land at Curtis Park, saying that it was “the worst thing that has happened down there, [and] It destroyed that park. The sprinkler system was broken six years ago; it's never been fixed.” Novoselsky added, “I will not let this council be bullied [into a decision] again.” He also added that replicating Henry Della Russo Stadium behind Revere High School—an option discussed (at the previous School Building Committee meeting) should the new McKinley sit on the existing stadium site—is “totally unacceptable.”
Where to replicate Hill Park—as required under federal law should the new school be built on Hill Park—poses a problem, because optimal land in the city is scarce. “Where are we going to get the land to build a new Hill Park?” inquired Councillor-at-Large Robert Haas, adding that he hoped the city council would not be viewed as the bad guy regarding the issue.
“I don’t think I'm a bad guy,” Ward 5 Councillor John Powers responded. “When they [the school department] wanted three million dollars for a new roof for the high school, we gave it. When they wanted three million dollars for Garfield, we gave it.” Powers then asked, “Where are we going to get the money [for this project]? People are out of work, losing their homes.”
But Ward 4 Councillor Stephen Reardon offered a counterpoint. “If the old McKinley School is destroyed, there's nowhere to send the children while the new school is being built,” he said. “We hired professional people to find places to build the school. If they can't find good space, they will tell us no.”
He reminded the council that because of an increase in population the School Building Authority requires the new McKinley School be large enough for 690 students, about 100 more than the original plan.
He also reminded them that, in accordance with the proposal, building the new McKinley School on Hill Park would preserve the Henry Della Russo Stadium in its current spot. “We do not have the property to make this an easy decision. I believe it can be done if we put our minds to it. We have to build the best school we can build,” Reardon said.
He added that other options are on the table, such as renaming the new school in honor of Sgt. James Hill, for whom Hill Park is named. “I cannot think of any higher honor than to have a school named after [someone],” Reardon said.
And of the planning process, Reardon said: “The Hill Park site has been out there for months. This is merely a proposal at this point. . . [The August 7 vote] is only part of the process, not the final solution.”
For Councillor-at-Large Anthony Zambuto, who stated previously that he was against building the school on Hill Park, renaming the school in honor of Sgt. Hill seems a suitable compromise. And he added that erecting McKinley on the old site is “totally unworkable” given the proposal for the sprawling four-story, sidewalk-to-sidewalk structure that would result.
But as for replicating the park, which is required (whether or not the school is renamed in Sgt. Hill's memory), Zambuto faced the usual problem of locating adequate land. “Very few of us will agree that it should go at St. Mary's… Let’s find another location for the park. There may be circumstances that will work for all of us,” he concluded.