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City Council postpones action on former Everett High; approves Feasibility Study for new High School

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By Neil Zolot

 

The Everett City Council voted to postpone action on appropriating $10 million for a new roof on the old Everett High School – located at 548 Broadway – pending more information on how much it would cost to renovate the building to house seventh- and eighth-graders, but approved a $2 million request for a Feasibility Study for a new High School at their meeting Monday, June 24. The vote on the roof funding was 7-4 with Councillors-at-Large John Hanlon and Katy Rogers, Ward 1 Councillor Wayne Matewsky and Ward 3 Councillor Anthony DiPierro in dissent. The vote on the money for the Feasibility Study was 9-2 with Councillors-at-Large Guerline Alcy Jabouin and Michael Marchese in opposition.

Councillors voting for postponement didn’t want to appropriate money until costs are more tangible. “I trust School Superintendent William Hart when he tells us what he wants to do, but let’s verify it,” Ward 5 Councillor/City Council President Robert Van Campen, who gave up the chair to Ward 2 Councillor Stephanie Martins for the discussion, said in reference to Hart’s presentation about renovating the old High School for use at a cost of at least $50 million. “It’s probably closer to $60 million. I would like to see it in writing from a professional who does that type of work. Appropriating money for the roof is putting the cart before the horse because we don’t know the build-up cost. It would put money into a roof for a building, but we don’t have a clear idea about its use.”

Chief Financial Officer Eric Demas told the council that the City of Everett will pursue grants for the money.

“Are we going to be a City Council of inaction?” DiPierro asked rhetorically. “The building needs a roof one way or another.”

That dovetails with testimony by the Mayor’s Chief-of-Staff, Erin Deveney, who stated, “If the City Council is not willing to appropriate money to fix the roof, there’s no other use for the building. If the roof isn’t fixed, it doesn’t make sense to consider the building for other uses.”

“We have an obligation to fix the roof,” Ward 1 Councillor Wayne Matewsky agreed. “Let’s get the roof fixed and move forward. The Superintendent’s plan works for me and I’m glad the Mayor has come around to using the building as a school,” a reference to earlier ideas to sell space to private contractors for other uses and use modular units at schools.

“Based on the concerns of the City Council and the recommendations of the Superintendent, the Mayor is willing to put forward the old High School for use as educational space,” Deveney added.

Hart’s plan is to have over 40 classrooms, plus a cafeteria, gym and a “library that gets used as a library,” a reference to libraries in schools used as classroom space. “Our schools are overcrowded,” he said. “Education is difficult when space can’t accommodate students.

“Members of the City Council and School Committee expressed concern about what to do about it. The question is what can I do about it? My plan is simple. I need space, but I can’t buy or rent a building. For years Everett had a Junior High School at the Parlin School and I would like to return to that model and house the 7th and 8th grade in the same building and focus on the best practices we can provide them. The building suits my needs best and is centrally located,” a reference to providing 40,000 more square feet of space than at the unused Pope John XXIII High School at 888 Broadway. He also said that using the old High School would free up space at the neighborhood schools and eliminate the need to use hallways, stairwells and converted closets for specialized learning.

Ward 4 Councillor Holly Garcia feels Pope John as well as the old High School, could be used, given building a new High School and converting the current one into a Junior High or Middle School could take years and cost hundreds of millions, if it happens at all. She conceded, “Pope John is in a bit of shambles as well. It needs work, but we need a quick solution.”

“The Mayor has been consistent in his opinion Pope John should be used for housing,” Deveney reacted. “The reason he doesn’t support Pope John as a school is because it doesn’t provide as much space.”

“If it’s going to be housing, when?” Garcia asked.

“Previous Councils did not take action on Pope John for that purpose,” Deveney answered. “That’s why it’s still sitting there.”

“I’m in favor of using both the old High School and Pope John for education,” Rogers feels. “This Council has a responsibility to figure out a use for Pope John, be it for education or housing.”

In discussion, Councillor-at-Large Stephanie Smith expressed concern about the building being occupied by preschool students and older students and current occupants like the Eliot Family Resource Center and a boxing club simultaneously. Hart told her that plans are being considered to move the other functions, and students of various ages are kept separate at the neighborhood schools, with dedicated spaces and varying class times.

“I support your vision, but I don’t like the way the administration is presenting this,” Martins told Hart.

Van Campen initially suggested the matter be referred to the Ways and Means Subcommittee, but Smith, who chairs it, said it would probably not be approved at that level. “We need to see a full plan,” she said before the vote to postpone.

In the subsequent discussion about appropriating $2 million for a Feasibility Study for a new High School and at the Ways and Means Subcommittee meeting before the full Council convened, Hart and Demas said a Feasibility Study is required by the state School Building Authority (MSBA) as a step to determine if and where a new High School might be built. “There are a number of steps before we break ground,” Hart said. “A study will help determine the location and what the building will look like based on demographics and academic needs. In order to move forward we need that information. Two million sounds like a lot, but it will give us real information to help make decisions moving forward. If the City doesn’t demonstrate interest, it could derail the whole process. The MSBA will think you’re not committed to the project.”

Demas added that the MSBA will cover 77% of the cost, although the City will have to appropriate the money and apply for reimbursement.

Alcy Jabouin is worried the money will be spent and wasted if a new High School isn’t built. “I don’t want this to be a report of a study that just sits there and nothing happens,” she said.

“You can’t move forward without following MSBA guidelines, but the study will not be used if a new High School isn’t built,” Demas told her.

In general discussion, Hart confirmed comments by Ward 6 Councillor Peter Pietrantonio and others – plans to use the old High School for seventh- and eighth-graders will have no effect on the overcrowded High School, and the two are separate issues, at least for the time being. A new High School would allow the City to convert the current one into a Middle School and relieve overcrowding across the board.

“This is something we need,” DiPierro said. “Even if we use the old High School or Pope John, it doesn’t solve the problem at the High School.”

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