In a letter addressed to city and school officials this week, The Neighborhood Developers (TND) Executive Director Rafael Mares wrote that TND will withdraw their application should the city decide to keep the former Pope John High site a school – during Tuesday’s joint meeting between the School Committee and City Council at City Hall. The letter, which is titled “Not the right time or place,” stated: “While Pope John may not solve the whole space problem for Everett Public Schools, it could be one of the quicker ways to alleviate some of the pressure. We are honored to unwittingly have played a catalyst role to make that happen. To be clear, we are no longer working on the vision to transform the closed Pope John School into affordable homes.”
Ward 5 School Committee member Marcony Almeida-Barros and Ward 2 Councillor Stephanie Martins requested City Clerk Sergio Cornelio to read the letter out loud to the City Council and School Committee.
Mayor Carlo DeMaria said that if the building should become available for housing, The Neighborhood Developers will not move forward in the transformation of the closed Pope John School into affordable housing. “You heard what the letter said about housing stability,” DeMaria said. “I love children as much as anyone; however, I have to worry about the rest of the residents.”
Almeida-Barros said the letter is addressed to the people of Everett, so he doesn’t think they’re wasting their time.
Ward 6 Councillor Alfred Lattanzi made a motion to look into the cost of modulars for additional classroom space and refer it to the mayor. “I’m not going to say we’re going to do it, but at least we can look into it,” Lattanzi said. “We have to decide between the high school and Pope John – that’s all going to take time.”
DeMaria said he would seek out cost estimates on modular classrooms, as well as the possible use of the Pope John site and the former high school along Broadway.
Ward 1 School Committee member Millie Cardello asked Supt. of Schools Priya Tahiliani when the modular classrooms could be ready. Tahiliani said that she anticipates they’d be likely ready by the next academic year. “Don’t anyone knock down modulars,” Cardello said. “The ones at the Webster – nobody ever thought they’d be around that long, and they’re fine.”
Tahiliani said there’s been a lot of planning, but that they need an action plan soon. “We do need to get moving,” Tahiliani said. “Our schools are over capacity, and I anticipate it getting worse over time.”
Councillor-at-Large Stephanie Smith said she doesn’t want to put her young children in a classroom with 30 kids. “I came back on the council for my kids,” Smith said. “What I’m saying is Everett kids are not Everett’s pride – it’s really upsetting to me.” Smith added that the city needs school space and affordable housing now, not tomorrow.
Ward 2 School Committee member Jason Marcus asked if they could put temporary curtains in the school auditoriums. Tahiliani replied that they’re looking into how to create soundproof barriers, adding that they have partitioned off the libraries and stages for classroom space.
School Committee member At-Large Samantha Lambert said this becomes a civil rights issue. “If Pope John was to go forward as affordable housing, it would be four to five years before they open the doors,” Lambert said. “If we’re invited into the Mass. School Building Authority, it’s at least eight years away – a generation away of young people who got less than what they deserve.”