Town Manager Scott C. Crabtree said there’s one definite scenario about how the town will make use of six retired school buildings: One of them will become the future home of the Youth & Recreation Department. “They’re in a building right now that there’s not even a playground,” Crabtree said Monday (Nov. 14) night, referring to the agency’s current quarters at 400 Central St.
“Everyone agrees the Youth & Rec needs more space to work to expand their programs,” he said.
The town manager and the Board of Selectmen hosted a citizen’s forum in the second floor auditorium at Town Hall to get public feedback on possible uses of the vacant buildings. About 40 people attended the forum.
Any one of the three elementary school buildings – the Oaklandvale School, the Lynnhurst School and the Waybright School – that were turned over by Saugus Public Schools to the Town of Saugus earlier this year are potential sites because of the playing fields on their properties.
Selectmen also made it clear that they oppose any sale of the school properties. “There is no appetite to sell these buildings and put up high-rise apartments,” Board of Selectmen Vice Chair Debra Panetta said, a position shared by each of the selectmen.
Selectman Jeff Cicolini noted, “There’s an appetite for a dog park, more green space and more parks… A lot falls into the purview of our Master Plan. We know we don’t need seven parks. They can’t all be parks.”
Selectman Mike Serino said his “main concern” is to make sure that the neighborhoods are protected.
Crabtree told the crowd that the town is lucky to have the Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site and Breakheart Reservation because it lacks open space.
Selectmen and Crabtree listened to a number of suggestions about how to use the old schoolhouses. Precinct 9 Town Meeting Member Judy Worthley said many of the constituents in her precinct want to see a fire station. “If it’s feasible, we’d like it to be considered,” Worthley said.
But Crabtree noted that the Oaklandvale School is only a mile and a half from the central fire station. He said there were more preferable locations that would provide better coverage of the town’s west end.
“We will find a spot, even if it’s not a school,” said Board of Selectmen Chair Anthony Cogliano, who has been a longtime advocate for a third fire station to be located on the town’s west side.
Selectman Corinne Riley said Monday night’s forum was “a first step in many meetings to come to get public input to see what happens to the closed school buildings over the next several years.”
“This kind of public outreach for citizen input is one way to hear new and different ideas during such an important process. Just in the first meeting held tonight, there were ideas shared that maybe someone hadn’t thought of,” Riley said.
“The Board of Selectman and the Town Manager know how important these discussions are and I look forward to future meetings including the residents along with elected officials and others who are willing to get involved to move our town forward,” she said.
Precinct 5 Town Meeting Member Ron Wallace, who also sits on the Cemetery Commission, said land is desperately needed for more gravesites. “Our cemetery [Riverside Cemetery] is almost full,” he said.
Some residents suggested that some of the school buildings be considered for affordable housing to accommodate families, veterans and elderly people.
Crabtree stressed that Monday’s meeting was just the first step of a long process. “Right now, it’s ideas,” Crabtree said. “I think everyone in general wants to keep our property and not try to sell it,” he said.