Ballot

Swampscott rail trail leads to the polls

COURTESY PHOTO
Pictured is a map of the proposed rail trail.

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — Voters will head to the polls later this month to decide whether to allocate funds that would allow plans for a proposed rail trail to move forward.

At Town Meeting, by a 210-56 vote, members approved allocating $850,000 for the design and engineering of the trail location within the National Grid corridor, as well as the legal fees and costs for acquisition of easement rights.

But a group of residents against the trail, including abutters, who have been vocal in their opposition, fought the vote, and spearheaded a citizen’s petition that garnered enough signatures to force a town-wide special election.

The Board of Selectmen have set the special election date for Thursday, June 29, where voters will be presented with the same question voted on and approved at Town Meeting last month.

The citizen’s petition garnered nearly 900 certified signatures, or more than 5 percent of the registered voters needed to challenge a Town Meeting vote, as required by the town charter.

The town charter (Section 2-6) reads that votes, except a vote to adjourn or authorize the borrowing or money in receipt of taxes for the current year, passed at Town Meeting, don’t go into effect for five days, and can be challenged within that timeframe by filing a petition with the Board of Selectmen, asking that the question be submitted to the town’s voters.

Officials have said $240,000 of the funds would be used to hire professionals for design and engineering costs. About $610,000 would be for acquisition of easement rights, where the town would work with the property owners (National Grid and/or other parties) to secure the rights. This may be done through eminent domain or by donation/gift of the land.

The funds would not be for construction of the trail, which would be financed through donations, grants and private funds, officials said.

Officials have said National Grid pays property taxes for the 11 parcels that make up the utility corridor, but doesn’t have clear title on all of them. Through a title process, numerous owners have been identified, which could include abutters.

Schools come up $75K short in Saugus

The two-plus mile, 10-foot wide trail would run from the Swampscott Train Station to the Marblehead line at Seaview Avenue, connecting with the Marblehead rail trail, which also links to trails in Salem.

Paul Dwyer, a Swampscott resident who lives along the proposed trail, has said the group decided to start the petition drive after losing the Town Meeting vote. He said previously that people have a problem with eminent domain, which is the wrong thing to do your neighbors, and that with so many financial needs in town, the trail is a luxury and a want more than anything else. He has said the town doesn’t need it and can’t afford it.

Other opposition to the trail has included safety and privacy concerns from neighbors. Residents in support of the trail have spoken about how it would provide free exercise and a way for people to get out in nature.

Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said previously that she thinks Town Meeting is a good representation of the rest of the town, and that she was confident the town-wide vote would be consistent with the Town Meeting vote.

Town Clerk Susan Duplin said an election usually costs the town between $10,000 to $12,000 for things such as ballot printing, poll workers and supplies.

Duplin said ballot questions typically draw a large turnout. For the November 2014 state election, the town had a new school question on the ballot, and a turnout of 67 percent. For the January 2010 special town election, where voters were presented with a question for a new police station, there was a 62 percent turnout.

“Prior history shows questions on the ballot definitely get the voters out,” Duplin said. “With that said, I’m predicting at least a 60 percent voter turnout for the June 29 special election, but (it) could be even more.”

Absentee ballots will be available at least three weeks before the election, no later than June 8. In order to qualify for an absentee ballot, the voter must be unable to vote at the polls on Election Day, because of absence from the voter’s town during normal polling hours, physical disability preventing them from going to the polling place, or religious belief. A family member may also apply for an absentee ballot for the voter, Duplin said.

Voter registration deadline is no later than 8 p.m. on Friday, June 9, and the town clerk’s office will be open for that deadline. Voters will also be able to come in and vote absentee. Early voting only applies to state elections, Duplin said.

Polls will be open during the election at three locations: Precincts 1 & 2 at Swampscott Senior Center, 200 Rear Essex St.; Precincts 3 & 4 at First Church Congregational, 40 Monument Ave.; and Precincts 5 & 6 at Swampscott Middle School, 207 Forest Ave.

Voter registration can be done online, an application can be downloaded, or voting status can be checked at the secretary of state’s website at www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/eleidx.htm.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Meeting to consider Saugus school vote

COURTESY PHOTO
Pictured is a rendering of a possible new school in Saugus.

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

SAUGUS Town Meeting members will be asked Tuesday to decide whether residents will hit the polls on June 20 to vote on a new middle-high school.

The School Building Committee recently approved a total project budget investment of $186 million, which includes an investment of $160 million for a proposed grades 6-12 combination middle and high school.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) will reimburse the town at a minimum rate of 53 percent which is expected to increase of eligible approved project costs.

In addition, a $25 million district-wide master plan would restructure the district to include an upper elementary school for grades 3-5 at the existing Belmonte Middle School and a lower elementary school for Pre-K through grade 2 at the Veterans Memorial Elementary School. The master plan is a town project and is not being pursued through the MSBA. The town’s share of the total project would be an estimated $118 million, bonded over a 30-year period.

Town Manager Scott Crabtree said the town’s recently earned S&P AA+ bond rating, which is the highest rating in the town’s history, will save taxpayers an estimated $7.2 million in savings over the life of the bond.

A fact sheet provided by Crabtree details the cost to residents with average home value assessments. According to The Warren Group, in March, the median home value in Saugus was $374,950.

At $375,000, the cost would be $76 in 2018, $118 in 2019, and would continue gradually increasing until reaching $541 in 2024. The cost would then begin to gradually decline.

With a home valued at $300,000, a resident would contribute an estimated $61 in 2018, $94 in the second year, and peak at $433 in 2014. If a resident’s home is valued at $150,000, they would pay $30 in the first year and peak at $216 in 2024.

On June 20, voters will need to approve both ballot questions for either initiative to move forward, Crabtree said.

The first question will ask residents to support the middle-high school building. The 270,000-square-foot school will have a 12,000-square-foot gymnasium, 750-seat auditorium, capacity for more than 1,300 students, state-of-the-art science labs, a sports complex, walking paths, and student gardens.

Students lend voices to Memorial Day

The second question will ask residents to support the District-Wide Master Plan Solution, which will provide money to renovate and improve the Belmonte Middle School and Veterans Memorial School to be reused as the town’s only upper and lower elementary schools.

Town Meeting Members will also vote Tuesday on the School Department’s budget. Superintendent Dr. David DeRuosi proposed cuts to the School Committee on Thursday that would make up for a potential $900,000 gap.

The School Committee voted a $29.6 million budget but the Finance Committee is supporting Town Manager Scott Crabtree’s recommendation for $1.6 million less. After making adjustments to the department’s critical needs, DeRuosi said the district would still face a $900,000 shortfall.

To help close the gap, DeRuosi proposed closing the Ballard Early Education Center, which has several curriculum-based preschool classes, about five of which are integrated classes of both regular and special education.

This year the school has 118 children, though some are half-day and part-time students. Moving the program would save the district between $140,000 and $145,000, he said.

He originally suggested relocating the more self-contained classes to Saugus High School and the more inclusive classes to Veterans Memorial Elementary School but parents didn’t agree that a high school setting was the best place for their children.

He recrafted the plan, moving all children to Veterans Memorial instead. The Ballard students would use two classrooms and a first and a third grade class would see an increase in size to 27 and 28 students. He plans to allow parents to opt to send their children to other schools with smaller class sizes and expects the numbers will drop by the start of the school year.

Krista Follis, who has a 4-year-old son at Ballard, said she appreciates the changes DeRuosi has made to the plan but feels very uneasy going into June without knowing where her son will attend school.

A custodian and clerk who work at Ballard will be transfered to fill open positions from retiring employees at Veterans Memorial. The Ballard nurse will move to the high school to fill one of two vacant positions. A second vacant nursing position will not be filled. A kindergarten teacher at Veterans Memorial will be moved to fill an open position at Lynnhurst Elementary School.

“There will be a time that the early education center will not be in a stand alone building, it will be part of a Pre-K to (grade) 2,” said DeRuosi. “We’re making those moves now.”


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemilve.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte

Walking the line on pot

The border war between Lynnfield and Peabody this week was over almost before it began but the tussle between two neighbors has wide implications for the medical and recreational marijuana siting decisions.

Peabody Mayor Edward Bettencourt is no fan of marijuana sales in Peabody and he made sure the city’s medical marijuana zone got stuck out on Route 1 North. The border war ignited over a parcel in the zone abutting South Lynnfield’s Green Street neighborhood.

The town’s Board of Selectmen fired off a letter to the mayor and Bettencourt — a savvy elected official who is fast on his feet — quickly labeled the offending parcel a “hardship” from Lynnfield’s viewpoint and yanked it out of the zone.

Medical marijuana advocates and the coalition that campaigned for recreational marijuana last year understood that successful cannabis sales and marketing depends on saturating local markets. Language barring cities and towns from banning marijuana is a key element of the legislative language included in the 2016 pot legalization ballot questions.

Local officials retain control under the legislative language to regulate marijuana. Some communities, including Peabody and Lynnfield, have made it clear they don’t want recreational marijuana within their borders but their resistance is going to have to withstand marketplace demands.

Peabody and Lynnfield clear the air

In other words, communities resistant to marijuana sales locally will find their position increasingly difficult to hold once recreational marijuana follows on the heels of medical marijuana and pot dealers set up shop in cities and towns.

But their inability to keep marijuana beyond city and town limits won’t prevent local officials from consigning pot zones to municipal borders. Highways skirting communities and industrial zones on the edges of communities are often havens for strip clubs and other businesses deemed undesirable by the local powers that be.

But Bettencourt can attest to the friction created when one community’s pot zone becomes a neighboring community’s hardship. Border wars like the one this week between Lynnfield and Peabody are going to spark and ignite and the flames might incinerate some political career and the goodwill shared by the feuding communities.

Of course, money changes everything and legal marijuana dealers may find the best way to avoid making enemies in one community — maybe two — is to talk dollars and cents with local leaders. Legal pot is here to stay in Massachusetts but the disputes rising from its presence loom on the horizon.

Baker: I like Tom — but I’m with Judy

By THOMAS GRILLO

SALEM — Popular Gov. Charlie Baker could make the difference in re-electing Republican Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy in what could be a close race in November.

“I have known the mayor for quite a while and I will certainly support her re-election,” the Republican governor told The Item on Wednesday. “That said, I have a good working relationship with Sen. McGee … they are two fine people and that’s good for the city of Lynn.”

Last week, state Sen. Thomas McGee (D-Lynn) kicked off his bid for mayor at the Knights of Columbus. The senator told the crowd he was running because he loves the city and the values Lynn represents. Kennedy launched her bid for a third term last month and pointed to dozens of accomplishments.

The race comes amid financial troubles for the cash-strapped city. The 2017 and 2018 budgets continue to pose challenges for Kennedy’s administration. She has asked department heads to make cuts. Some managers may have to trim up to 8.5 percent in their personnel budgets, a request that could lead to layoffs.

I am the best person for the job, McGee says

Kennedy and McGee were behind the failed measure in March to build a pair of middle schools. Voters overwhelmingly rejected increasing their real estate taxes by $200 or more annually for the next 25 years to pay for them.

But they are on opposing sides of an added meals tax that would go into the city’s general fund. McGee supports the idea of adding .0075 to the state’s 6.5 percent meals tax, while Kennedy vetoed the plan last week.

Baker is the most popular governor in America, according to a poll by Morning Consult, a Washington, D.C. research firm. The survey ranked him No. 1 with a 75 percent approval rating. The governor’s disapproval rating is a modest 17 percent, the survey said.

When asked how he would help Kennedy win, Baker declined to be specific.

Consider the progress we’ve made, Kennedy says

“I have a day job, which is pretty busy and chews up lot of my time,” he said. “But if Mayor Kennedy would like me to support and help her, we will do what we can. As I said, I have a lot of respect for Sen.  McGee and those two folks bring a lot to the table for the city.”

While Baker and McGee are native sons of the North Shore, the governor acknowledged he and the senator do not have the same close relationship shared with Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh.   

“Mayor Walsh and I talked every day for more than a month during those snowstorms shortly after I took office,” he said. “That cemented the relationship, it’s just different.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

 

Peabody and Lynnfield clear the air

By ADAM SWIFT

PEABODY — There will be no border battle over medical marijuana along Route 1.

Earlier this week, the Lynnfield Board of Selectmen sent a letter to Peabody Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. opposing a proposed medical marijuana zone along the highway that would include a parcel abutting the Green Street neighborhood in South Lynnfield.

But Wednesday morning, Bettencourt spoke to Lynnfield selectmen Chairman Christopher Barrett, telling him he would withdraw that parcel from the proposed zone at Thursday night’s joint hearing with the City Council and Planning Board.

“I had the pleasure to speak with Mayor Bettencourt about our concerns and applaud him for proposing an amendment to eliminate the parcels in the zoning change that would be directly accessed from Green Street,” said Barrett. “The mayor was responsive to the neighbors’ concerns and his efforts showed the people of Lynnfield why Peabody is so fortunate to have a mayor like him leading the city.”

Bettencourt said the proposed zone for the sale of medical marijuana along Route 1 North will include several parcels along the highway, but will not include the area that can be accessed through Green Street.

Lynn doubles down on excise-tax delinquents

“We agreed that it would be a hardship on that neighborhood,” said Bettencourt.

The hearing on the proposed medical marijuana zone is scheduled for Thursday at 7 in the Wiggin Auditorium at City Hall.

Allowing medical marijuana sales would reverse course for city officials, Bettencourt and several councilors said there were several reasons to make the change now. The mayor said the city could face legal action if it continues to prohibit the sale of medical marijuana. And at a recent council hearing on the subject, several councilors said they have seen the positive impact medical marijuana can make for those who need it.

While Peabody is on the cusp of allowing medical marijuana, city officials are backing a ballot initiative seeking the prohibition of recreational pot sales.

Both Peabody and Lynnfield officials have said they are doing their best to look out for the concerns of their residents.

“One of the main goals of the Board of Selectmen is to be a strong voice for all of the neighborhoods of Lynnfield,” said Barrett.  

 

Warren candidacy could connect in a blue state

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Newton Mayor Setti Warren speaks with the Item in this February 2017 file photo.

Newton Mayor Setti Warren is running for governor and political handicappers are unlikely to pick him as an odds-on favorite to beat Gov. Charlie Baker in 2018. But Warren, a Democrat, has a track record and a perspective on government that makes him an interesting candidate.

An Iraq War veteran who worked for the federal government and has served as Newton’s mayor for two terms, Warren is blunt about how well state government serves Massachusetts residents: “There is a case to be made we can do better.”

He will make that case during the gubernatorial campaign he officially launched on May 20. For now, Warren is talking frankly and not worrying about being branded a pro-tax candidate or another free-spending Democrat.

He supports a “millionaire’s tax” and said his campaign for governor will be matched by the stance he takes in favor of a proposed ballot question advocating the tax.

“We need more revenue,” he said in a February Item editorial board interview, adding: “Now is not the time to nibble around the edges.”

That is bold talk for someone wading into a big-time political arena like the governor’s race. But Warren has the bona fides to back up his statement. He said his record as mayor includes transforming an empty city reserve fund into a $20 million rainy day account.

When he walked into the mayor’s office for the first time in 2010, Warren made finances a priority. He worked with 17 public service unions to align city government health care costs and instituted management practices.

Comparing Massachusetts’ state government to Newton’s municipal government is like comparing Jupiter to Pluto. But Warren is kicking off his campaign for the state’s top office by sticking to a big-picture view of Massachusetts’ needs.

Warren sets sights on governor’s job

“We’re not making the investments that matter,” he told Item editors. He pointed to transportation infrastructure to make his point.

“We have a complete, utter failure in transportation,” he said.

The primary example he uses to illustrate this statement is the decades-long push by Lynn business and political leaders to extend Blue Line rapid transit to Lynn. Long looked upon as an economic development spark for Lynn, the Blue Line extension, in Warren’s, view is a way to make the North Shore’s gateway city a regional transportation hub.

The implications of that perspective are significant. Mass-transit alternatives are taking on heightened importance at a time when aging roadways are becoming more congested and clogged with traffic. Providing a Boston-Lynn transit link sets the stage for forging an economic bond between the cities.

Warren sees the logic behind the Blue Line extension and other long-term projects aimed at enhancing Massachusetts’ economy. The difference between Warren and a lot of people running for office or serving in public office is he is not afraid to talk about spending tax dollars in order to make a difference in Massachusetts.

He thinks a millionaire’s tax could generate an estimated $2 billion annually. Plenty of critics will line up to criticize the tax. But how many will offer constructive solutions aimed at fixing Massachusetts’ roads and bridges and modernizing aging housing?

“This is about economic stimulation,” he said, “and the courage and honesty to raise revenue.”

That’s a tough position to argue against and Warren is sure to state his case all the way to the ballot box next year.

Swampscott voters to decide rail-trail fate

COURTESY PHOTO
Pictured is a plan for the Swampscott rail trail.

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — Town Meeting members approved allocating funds allowing plans for a proposed rail trail to move forward last week, but a group of residents opposing the trail fought the vote and appear to have forced a special election.

Abutters to the proposed trail, who have been vocal in their opposition, and other residents, spearheaded a citizen’s petition, seeking to force the question brought before and approved at Town Meeting, to be placed on a ballot.

At Town Meeting by a 210-56 vote, members approved allocating $850,000 for the design and engineering of the trail location within the National Grid corridor, as well as the legal fees and costs for acquisition of easement rights.

After the citizen’s petition garnered nearly 900 certified signatures, voters will likely be asked to allocate the funds during a town-wide election, with a date yet to be determined, according to Town Clerk Susan Duplin.

Officials have said $240,000 of the funds would be used to hire professionals for design and engineering costs. About $610,000 would be for acquisition of easement rights, where the town would work with the property owners (National Grid and/or other parties) to secure the rights. This may be done through eminent domain, or by donation/gift of the land.

The funds would not be for construction of the trail, which would be financed through donations, grants, and private funds, officials said.

Officials have said National Grid pays property taxes for the 11 parcels that make up the utility corridor, but doesn’t have clear title on all of them. Through a title process, numerous owners have been identified, which could include abutters.

The two-plus mile, 10-foot wide trail would run from the Swampscott Train Station to the Marblehead line at Seaview Avenue, connecting with the Marblehead rail trail, which also links to trails in Salem.

Paul Dwyer, a Swampscott resident who lives along the proposed trail, said the group became aware of a section in the town charter, that allows a challenge to the Town Meeting vote by means of a petition, and that could subsequently force a ballot initiative. He said when they didn’t win at Town Meeting, the group decided to start the petition drive.

The town charter (Section 2-6) reads that votes, except a vote to adjourn or authorize the borrowing of money in receipt of taxes for the current year, passed at Town Meeting don’t go into effect for five days.

The Town Meeting vote can be challenged within five days by filing a petition with the Board of Selectmen, asking that the question be submitted to the town’s voters. If five percent of the town’s registered voters sign the petition, the question in substantially the same language that was presented to Town Meeting, would appear on a ballot during a special election, according to the charter.

Ehrlich: Tax credit will earn income for state

Dwyer said the response to the petition was overwhelming in town. He said people want to be heard on this issue, as opposed to just passing it through Town Meeting because it’s a lot of money to be spent. If the town sinks $850,000 into the project, and then can’t raise enough money to construct the trail, would more funds be requested at Town Meeting, he asked.

He said the other thing people have a problem with is eminent domain, which he said is a great thing to be used to build a new hospital or school, but not to build a recreational trail. Dwyer said people think eminent domain is the wrong thing to do to your neighbors.

“We’re very optimistic and enthused about the support that happened last week and continues to go on, so we hope that carries over to an election,” Dwyer said. “There are so many financial needs in this town that this trail is a luxury and a want more than anything else. We don’t need it, we can’t afford it, and there are many, many more priorities in town than a trail.”

Duplin said there were 10,662 registered voters as of week. The petition needed to garner 5 percent of those voters, or 533 signatures, to force the town-wide vote. She said there were 946 signatures submitted, and that 889 were certified. Other signatures were not certified for things such as illegible signature, some people signed who don’t live in town, and several people signed the petition twice, she added.

After the clerk’s office is done certifying the signatures, Duplin said there is a 48-hour window where anyone can file an objection to the signatures, which expires Wednesday at 5 p.m. She said the petition was handed in on Saturday, within five days of Town Meeting, and the signatures were certified on Monday. If objections are filed, she said the Board of Registrars would have to hold a hearing within 14 days.

Duplin said anyone can file objections for various reasons, but usually the reason is to reduce the number of certified signatures on the petition.

Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said she has consulted with Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald and some other members of the board, and doesn’t believe it’s wise to challenge the petition.

“I think it will go to a vote,” Dreeben said. “They clearly collected enough signatures and they have been certified so we’re not going to challenge it … People have a right to request a ballot measure for the town-wide vote and we’ll honor that.”

Dreeben said the board would set a date for the election, but the Selectmen have not met yet to discuss that. She said the Town Meeting vote was extremely clear on its approval to allocate the funds.

“I believe the Town Meeting is a good representation of the rest of the town, and I’m quite confident the town-wide vote will be consistent with the Town Meeting vote,” Dreeben said.

Duplin said an election usually costs the town between $10,000 to $12,000, for things such as ballot printing, poll workers and supplies.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

 

Lynn teacher joins the march

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN Miriam Rodriguez-Fusco is one of hundreds of teachers planning to attend the Rally for Public Education Saturday at the Boston Common.

The speech and language therapist in the Lynn Public Schools and parent of a third-grader at the Aborn Elementary School plans to board a bus in Lynn for the trip into Boston.

Rodriguez-Fusco, an educator for nearly two decades, said she feels strongly about her son’s future and the challenges of public school funding as traditional schools compete with charter schools for limited cash.

“We must raise our voices so that we can stand up to Trump and tell him we need adequate funding for public education that is free and not privatized,” she said.

The protest is sponsored by the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) and the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance, a grassroots organization of students, parents, educators, and concerned community members who are dedicated to preserving public education.

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The Alliance said since Donald Trump was elected president, they have been standing up for women, immigrants, science and now they’ve turned their attention to public schools.

Protesters plan to meet on the Common at 2 p.m. and later march to the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center on Boylston Street where delegates from MTA’s Annual Meeting are meeting.

On the recent vote to defeat funding for a pair of middle schools in Lynn, Rodriguez-Fusco said she was disappointed.

“No one wants to pay more taxes,” she said. “But we’re talking about the children who are our future and we have to invest in them or we will never have better.”   


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

For Colucci challenger, youth are priority

COURTESY PHOTO
Pictured is Eliud Alcala, who is running for Ward 4 City Councilor.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Eliud Alcala has launched a campaign to unseat the city’s longest serving city councilor.

The 41-year-old family counseling doctoral candidate is making his first bid for public office against Ward 4 Councilor Richard Colucci, who has served on the panel for 15 years.

“I want to represent all of Ward 4 and offer voters an alternative,” he said.

Alcala, the former campaign manager for School Committeewoman Maria Carrasco, said if elected his first priority will be to implement youth programs.

“We should provide career pathways and programs that engage youth in our community,” he said.

He was unsure about the cost of the new initiatives such as an English as a Second Language program he would like to see relaunched at the Ford Elementary School.

McGee: Every morning I’ll wake up determined

“That program helped lots of people and we need to seek grants and be creative to pay for it,” he said.

He has also proposed that the city hire an interpreter to assist Spanish-speaking residents seeking services at City Hall.

“As I knock on doors in the ward, people tell me translators are not available at City Hall,” he said.

Alcala said he did not know how much such a position would cost or how the new post would be paid for amid the city’s budget crunch.

He does favor implementation of the .0075 percent meals tax option under consideration by the City Council that would add about $700,000 to the city’s coffers annually. In addition, he voted to support construction of two middle schools in the special election last month which was defeated.

The West Lynn resident was born in the Bronx neighborhood of New York City where he was raised by his parents who immigrated from Puerto Rico. The family moved to Lynn in 2000.  


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Malden could limit pot shop locations

By STEVE FREKER 

MALDEN — City councilors are taking a swing at recreational marijuana with an eye toward trying to keep pot outside city limits.

Massachusetts voters approved legalization and taxation of recreational margin by a 52-45 margin last November. Language approved by voters outlines ballot votes and other measures cities and towns can take to limit recreational marijuana distribution.

Councilor Neil Kinnon previously urged city officials to determine if Malden can stave off potential marijuana vendors with an edict disallowing such establishments unless or until marijuana was declared legal at the federal level.

Joined by council colleagues, Kinnon voted Tuesday night to stall potential siting of recreational marijuana retailers in Malden until pot is legalized by the federal government. Ward 3 Councilor John Matheson authored the siting resolution.

Federal law at this time prohibits both possession and sale of marijuana. Some supporters and opponents are wondering if the Trump administration will approach legalizing it at the federal level over moves by individual states to legalize medical and recreational marijuana.

House burns in Saugus

Councilor Craig Spadafora, the council ordinance committee chairman, wants to create a new business category called “Adult Speciality Retail Sales” for alcohol, tobacco and marijuana retailers.

Spadafora said creating the new category sets the stage for zoning changes restricting where businesses defined under the category language can be located.

“We need something on the books to deal with (marijuana sales) if the issue should arise,” Spadafora said. “Right now there’s nothing there for this category.”

Permits, Inspections and Planning Services Director Chris Webb confirmed the need for a new regulation.

Zoning changes require Planning Board approval, as well as a public hearing process. The Planning Board could hear the matter as soon as June.

Specific discussion on potential zoning changes will resume at the next ordinance committee meeting.

 

Tradition makes a stand in Marblehead

Town Clerk Robin Michaud’s name is not on the May 9 Marblehead election ballot but Michaud won a resounding vote of confidence at Monday’s Town Meeting when participants voted 389-166 to defeat a petition to make the clerk’s job an appointed rather than an elected post.

If the vote had gone the other way, appointment proponents would have had to jump through several hoops during the next two years before the clerk’s job became an appointed position. The petition dominated Monday night’s Town Meeting debate with Michaud speaking against it. She simultaneously exerted her independence and demonstrated her popularity by urging Town Meeting to view an elected clerk as a Marblehead tradition. She also warned that an appointed clerk could face pressure from town elected officials, notably the Board of Selectmen.

The chief proponent for an appointed clerk made what almost has to be viewed as a dig at Michaud when he suggested appointment, rather than election, could make the clerk’s office run more efficiently.

Marblehead’s neighboring towns appoint clerks, in the case of Swampscott, Lynnfield and Saugus where the town manager is the appointing authority. Nahant just elected its clerk, the popular Margaret Barile, but the emphasis on appointment offers an insight into the clerk’s role from one community to another.

If there is one job in town government that is most closely identified with an individual’s personality, it is town clerk.

Tradition comes to a ‘head

Clerks are the face of town government: They help people fill out and file birth and death certificates and, in towns such as Nahant, they preside over the annual rite of summer better known as beach permit renewal.

Clerks also preside over elections in many towns and that role can and does bring them into conflict with elected officials. It’s been a long time since a North Shore clerk stood up and said elected officials were attempting to exercise undue influence on the clerk’s office. But clerks know exactly what is going on in town government. They know who is feuding, who is looking to get someone a job and who is saying something different from what they are doing.

It is interesting — if not a little amusing — to note that Marblehead Town Meeting members voted by secret ballot on the appointment question. Imagine more than 500 people lining up with pencils and pieces of paper to make a decision that could have been affirmed with a show of hands.

A Lynnfield Town Meeting member had the nerve to propose a secret ballot vote on the controversial rail trail proposed for that town. The idea went down in flames and the resulting vote gave trail proponents a one-vote victory.

Marblehead’s secret ballot saw residents strike down the appointed Town Clerk proposal by more than a two-to-one margin. It confirmed what Michaud must have known before Town Meeting started on Monday: She is a popular town official who is viewed as efficient and hard-working and independent.

Tradition comes to a ‘head

By GAYLA CAWLEY

MARBLEHEAD — The town clerk position will remain elected, as Town Meeting rejected a proposal to change the position to an appointed one on Monday night.

Town Meeting was dominated by the citizens petition centered around the town clerk position, and was relatively routine before the proposal was up for debate.

The petition was defeated 389-166, keeping the position elected, but the matter wasn’t easily resolved.

A petition from 12 voters before Town Meeting requesting that the vote be conducted by secret ballot was honored, meaning that hundreds of members voted individually by paper ballot, which then had to be counted.

Town Clerk Robin Michaud was against the proposed change, which if approved, would have then went on the town election ballot as a referendum in May 2018. It would have gone into effect in May 2019, if it had passed Town Meeting and a ballot initiative.

Michaud also spoke against the article at Town Meeting, saying that if the position was appointed by the Board of Selectmen, the clerk would be pressured to do what they want in order to keep his or her job.

She had previously argued that the position is the chief election official for the town, and should stay independent. Michaud said previously that elected town clerks have served Marblehead and towns through the Commonwealth for hundreds of years, and in a town full of tradition, “we should keep this tradition too,” one that has stood the test of time because it works.

Several Town Meeting members spoke against the proposal, with one urging a “no” vote in order to preserve the history and tradition.

Charles Gessner, the sponsor for the petition, said he thought the change would improve the efficiency of the town clerk’s office.

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Without any discussion, Town Meeting members approved an $89.2 million budget, including a $36.5 million figure for the schools.

Three other citizens’ petitions had also garnered some attention leading up to Town Meeting.

Voters gave their approval to accepting Tioga Way as a town or public road. Only public ways are eligible for state Chapter 90 funds to repair and resurface local roads, Town Administrator John McGinn said previously.

Another petition requesting funds for holiday donations was indefinitely postponed, after the sponsors withdrew their motion, citing the recent approval by the Board of Selectmen to create a donation fund, upon the request of the Chamber of Commerce. With the fund, people can make freewill donations payable to the town of Marblehead, which would go into that fund and be available for the purchase of holiday decorations.

A fourth citizens’ petition passed, which was asking the town to support a resolution supporting state and federal legislation that provides greater transparency in political donations and limits the influence of money in politics, and requests state and federal representatives to pass such legislation.

The effort is part of a larger movement by Represent.Us, a grassroots campaign based in Florence, that is aimed at stopping political bribery, ending secret money and fixing broken elections.

Bonnie Grenier, one of the sponsors of the petition, said previously the resolution is nonbinding and doesn’t become law, but would represent the voice of the people, and would strongly encourage elected officials at the state and local level.

Speaking in favor of the article on Monday, she said it would enhance transparency in political fundraising and campaign spending, and is aimed at restoring government that truly represents, we the people. If there’s going to be change, she said it falls to the people to act.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

‘Tradition’ up for debate in Marblehead

By GAYLA CAWLEY

MARBLEHEAD — Town Clerk Robin Michaud is against a Town Meeting proposal that would be a step toward making her position appointed, rather than elected.

A citizen’s petition, sponsored by Charles Gessner, a Marblehead resident and former chairman of the Finance Committee, would see if the town will “vote to change the position of town clerk from elected to appointed by the Board of Selectmen.”

“To the best of my knowledge, the town clerk issue has not been proposed before,” said Town Administrator John McGinn in an email. “If Town Meeting approves the article, the issue would go on the town election ballot as a referendum in May 2018. If it passes on the ballot, it would go into effect in May 2019.”

Town Meeting is May 1 at 7 p.m. at the Marblehead Veterans Middle School auditorium.

“I am against changing the position to an appointed position,” said Michaud in an email. “The town clerk is the chief election official for the town and it should stay independent from the elected board of selectmen, who is the appointing authority for the town. By remaining independent, the clerk can maintain the electoral process of the town without being pressured by the board they report to, a board that is on the town ballot every year. This in itself could create a conflict of interest.

“Changing this to an appointed position takes the voice away from the 15,000 voters in town,” Michaud continued. “The decision will be at the discretion of the five-member board and the town administrator. There is no reason to take the responsibility and right away from the voters. If the voters aren’t happy with the town clerk’s performance, they can decide to elect a new one.”

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Gessner said he thought the change would improve the efficiency of the clerk’s office. He said he doesn’t have a “personal ax to grind” and that there isn’t anyone else who could apply for the job who has as much experience as Michaud.

Right now, he said the clerk is an independent position (elected for a three-year term) and there isn’t any oversight and no way to integrate the clerk’s efforts into the town management. At times, Gessner said, he suspects the clerk could use some help, such as from the nearby selectmen’s office. Last year, during early voting, which attracted long lines, he said if the town administrator was in charge of the clerk’s office, the process could have been more efficient. He said the town administrator could have gone to the clerk ahead of time to ask for extended hours.  

There would be no financial impact in the change, Gessner said, and therefore, the finance committee has taken no position on the article.

But Michaud said there’s a reason why the town clerk position has remained an elected one. She said an elected town clerk has to be a resident, and if the job becomes appointed, that wouldn’t be the case. As a resident, she said the clerk knows what’s important to the voters and the community.

“Currently, there are 312 towns in Massachusetts with only 86 having appointed town clerks (and) 226 have elected town clerks,” she said. “Elected town clerks have served Marblehead and towns through the Commonwealth for hundreds of years. In a town full of tradition, we should keep this tradition too. The tradition has stood the test of time because it works.”


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @hGaylaCawley.

 

3-pronged approach to pot in Peabody

By ADAM SWIFT

PEABODY — Last November’s vote to legalize recreational marijuana in the state has created a haze for state and local legislators.

As the state legislature works through the details of the legalization process, the Peabody City Council is taking a three-pronged approach to pot sales in the city. Thursday night, the council’s legal affairs committee is slated to discuss proposed language for a zoning amendment that would place a moratorium on recreational pot sales in the city until June 30, 2018.

“We have to make sure that the decisions we make will be legal,” said Joel Saslaw, the council president. If the moratorium goes into effect, Saslaw said it will give the council time to see how other legalization efforts play out on the state and local levels.

In addition to the moratorium, the council is also moving forward with the establishment of a medical marijuana sales zone along Route 1 and a ballot referendum seeking the outright prohibition of recreational marijuana sales.

The council is meeting with the Planning Board in May to discuss the zoning change allowing for the medical marijuana sale. Currently, medical marijuana sales are prohibited in Peabody.

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Saslaw said he is open to the medical marijuana sales if it brings in revenue for the city and if it does not affect the ability to ban pot sales if voters approve the ballot measure in November.

“I think that there are still a lot of unanswered questions,” said Saslaw. “If we do have to have medical marijuana, we need to have it in the right zone so it’s not across the street from a school or a playground. If we’re going to accept the fact that we need to have it here by law, it’s the smart move to put it in its proper place.”

Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. said he has come around to seeing the value of medical marijuana for those in need, but that he is still a staunch opponent to allowing recreational sales in the city.

The council’s legal affairs committee meets at City Hall at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday.

 

Council supports medical marijuana zone

By ADAM SWIFT

PEABODY The city is close to reversing a ban on medical marijuana facilities.

Thursday night, the city council voted to support a zoning amendment that would allow medical marijuana dispensaries along a small stretch of Route 1 North.

The proposed zoning amendment signals a change in direction for Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. and the council.

“There’s a stark difference between operating a medical marijuana facility and a retail one,” said Bettencourt. “I strongly oppose recreational marijuana being sold in the city of Peabody.”

While allowing medical marijuana sales in the city would reverse course for city officials, Bettencourt and several councilors said there were several reasons to make the change now. The mayor said the city could face legal action if it continues to prohibit the sale of medical marijuana.

And Bettencourt said that he is now more comfortable with state regulation of medical marijuana and has seen people who have benefitted from treatment. Councilor-at-Large David Gravel echoed that sentiment.

“Since the advent of the state law allowing medical marijuana, I’ve interacted with a number of people that participate in the program and have a medical marijuana card through a doctor,” said Gravel. “It has shaped opinion on the role that pot use has for these people. I think there is a place for it. I don’t think that anyone who uses marijuana medically will say it is inconvenient to go to Route 1.”

The proposed zone runs along four parcels on Route 1 North from Bertucci’s to Don’s Hardware and includes a large parcel of undeveloped land behind the businesses, according to Bettencourt.

Councilor-at-Large Anne Manning-Martin cast the lone council vote against the medical marijuana zone.

“I do agree we need to have a zone,” Manning-Martin said. “My concern is that we seem to be rushing into it while there is a lot of information out there that seems to be unknown. I think we’re headed in the right direction, but we need more time to know what the laws are and where we are headed.”

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Council President Joel Saslaw voted for the zoning change, but said he has some concerns about the small size of the proposed area where medical marijuana sales would be allowed.

“Maybe there might be a small area on the southbound side (of Route 1),” said Saslaw. “I’m somewhat concerned that such a limited area could open us up to possible litigation.”

Bettencourt said he believed that the zone as presented was appropriate for the use.

As officials work to allow medical marijuana sales in the city, they are taking a different approach to the sale of recreational marijuana. A ballot question in November will ask voters if they want to ban the sale of recreational marijuana in the city.

Bettencourt has been a vocal proponent of the ballot initiative, and said his commitment to helping pass the ban will only increase as the election draws nearer.

“One of my proudest moments has been working with the city council to allow the citizens of the city to vote on recreational marijuana,” he said.

The statewide recreational marijuana initiative passed last November, but Peabody voters did not support the measure.

Time for adult conversations

ITEM PHOTO BY JIM WILSON
State sens. Michael Rodrigues and Thomas McGee speak during a meeting with The Item.

State Sen. Michael Rodrigues delivered one of the all-time classic understatements on Thursday during an interview with fellow Sen. Thomas M. McGee and The Item editorial board.

“It’s very difficult to have an adult conversation about taxes,” said the Westport Democrat.

Truer words were never spoken.

A minority of Lynn voters went to the polls on March 21 and rammed a plan to build new public schools into the ground with the force of a piledriver. The argument against the schools revolved around protecting open space and cemetery land. But voters saw red when they were asked to approve a property tax debt exclusion to pay for new schools.

On the other extreme, statewide gambling proponents promised to open the floodgates and pour new tax money into Massachusetts. They pointed to tax revenue from two casinos and a slot parlor as a solution to everything from beefing up police forces to boosting the state’s economy.

Rodrigues and McGee have been crisscrossing Massachusetts with fellow senators as part of Commonwealth Connections. Billed as a listening tour, the series of forums, including one planned next Tuesday in Lynn and another scheduled for that night in Peabody, are aimed principally at collecting and prioritizing ideas for fixing Massachusetts’ transportation infrastructure.

Opposition mounts to Munroe school site

As chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation, McGee has repeatedly pointed out how the state’s infrastructure is deteriorating. He has urged legislators, businesspeople, and fellow Lynn residents; as well as people statewide, to talk about how to pay for billions of dollars worth of needed transportation improvements.

He pointed out how tax discussion degenerate into “divisive” debates over prioritizing public spending. Echoing McGee’s point, Rodrigues observed how “everyone is dug into their own box” when it comes to protecting state-approved tax credits lessening the burden on a specific population or business sector.

McGee can’t be blamed for sometimes thinking he is whistling past the graveyard when he points out how improving transportation is a universal challenge everyone has to think about in dollars and cents. He points to the deteriorating General Edwards Bridge — a gateway to the city — as an example of a major expense that cannot be ignored.

Put in simpler terms, McGee is urging a statewide conversation on how to pay for transportation improvements that not only benefit Massachusetts’ economy but prevent disaster and loss of life.

He is not encouraged about the possibility of federal money flooding into the state for infrastructure repairs. But McGee isn’t giving up on the notion that Commonwealth Connections can inspire people across Massachusetts to focus on transportation improvement ideas and ways to pay for them.

It’s time for the adults in the room to start talking.  

Protect-Preserve needs to produce

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Don Castle motions at the “no-vote” victory party in this March file photo.

The founder of the “no new schools” movement pledged following the March 21 referendum vote to reach out and work with school officials.

Almost three weeks have passed and that conversation between Donald Castle and the officials he wants to speak with has yet to take place.

Mr. Castle and his Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove campaign defeated the city’s request to fund an $188.5 million plan for a middle school on Parkland Avenue and a second one on McManus Field.

Give Mr. Castle credit; he tapped into voter anger over taxes and tallied a 64 percent to 36 percent win.

He told The Item’s editorial board before the March 21 special election that he opposed construction of the Parkland Avenue school because the city’s forefathers wanted the 44-acre site to be reserved to expand the Pine Grove Cemetery.

He argued that the parcel is too close to Breeds Pond Reservoir, the buildings were too expensive, and the process failed to be inclusive.

Insisting his group is not anti-education or anti-new schools, Mr. Castle said he would reach out to city officials after the school vote and say, “We want to work with you.”

He kept up that refrain the day after the election, saying, “I extended an olive branch to the mayor and the committee to pick another site.”

Schools out in Lynn

Mr. Castle and Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, a school construction supporter, each say they made post-election efforts to reach out and meet, but missed each other’s post-election calls. Castle got a chance to state his case last week during the Pickering Middle School Building Committee meeting. Kennedy made a motion to suspend the rules and allow Mr. Castle to speak.

He declined.

“It was a bag job,” he said following the meeting, “They wanted to pick a fight with me, I’m not going to get into an argument with the superintendent that would make me look dumb. The proponents never sat down with us or called us once. I feel bad for the kids, but now they want to talk to us in the 11th hour. No thanks.”

Sorry, Mr. Castle, you can’t have it both ways. Protect-Preserve won a stunning election victory. But the middle-school enrollment tidal wave threat still looms.

Maybe Mr. Castle wants to hold on to that no new-schools anger and see if it converts into a possible City Council bid.

Maybe he got tongue tied when the opportunity came to actually present city decision makers with his school construction suggestions.

Or maybe it’s time for Mr. Castle and Protect-Preserve to make good on his pre-election statement and offer specific and positive ideas for solving the city’s school space crunch.

Unless they never had any ideas to begin with.

KIPP signs agreement for $20M high school

PHOTO COURTESY OF ARROWSTREET
Pictured is KIPP Academy on High Rock Street.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Two weeks after voters said no to a tax hike for two middle schools, the city’s only charter school is planning to build a $20 million high school, The Item has learned.

KIPP Massachusetts, which operates the Academy Lynn Public Charter School, has signed an agreement to purchase a former parking lot on Munroe Street that has been used as a community garden.

Assessed at $211,000, the parcel is owned by Munroe Partners LLC, operated by Gordon Hall, president of The Hall Co. The new school would include grades 9 through 12 and house 450 students.

“With a new YMCA being built nearby and St. Mary’s building the STEM School, having a new high school on Munroe Street would create a little campus in the downtown,” said Joel Abramson, a KIPP board member. “We are looking to share whatever assets we have with the community and the Lynn Public Schools.”

Hall said his company has agreed in principle to sell the 29,000-square-foot parcel to KIPP. The school is in the due diligence period and a closing date has not been set, he said.  “This is an opportunity to fill one of the missing teeth in downtown Lynn with a civic building that’s needed,” Hall said.

The new school would be paid for by a fundraising effort, tax credits, a possible bond from MassDevelopment, the state’s economic development and finance agency and a portion of the $12,000 per student tuition payments paid by Lynn Public Schools.

Caleb Dolan, the school’s executive director, said with a waiting list of more than 1,000 students, there’s lots of demand for space.

“We are certainly thinking about our future in Lynn,” he said. “We just had a lottery and had a tremendous turnout. There were 800 elementary school applicants for 120 slots. We are certainly thinking about how to hopefully serve more kids and how to be part of the solution in Lynn.”

Earlier this year, MassDevelopment issued KIPP a $5.7 million tax-exempt bond. The school plans to use the proceeds to build a 12,000-square-foot addition to its High Rock Street campus to accommodate 600 students in kindergarten through fourth grade.

MassDevelopment provided the school with a $26 million financing package in 2011, including a tax-exempt bond and New Market Tax Credits to build its existing building.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Schools out for the time being in Lynn

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy is pictured at a discussion on schools.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — No new schools will be built in the city anytime soon.

That was the decision of a city panel Tuesday that orchestrated a plan for construction of two middle schools to ease overcrowding and replace a dilapidated facility.

Following last Tuesday’s special election where voters resoundingly rejected a request to fund an $188.5 million plan for a school on Parkland Avenue and a second one on McManus Field, the Pickering School Building Committee withdrew its application for state funding.

In addition to taking itself out of consideration for funds, Lynn Stapleton, the city’s project manager for the school proposal, said Lynn had a number of options. They included a plan to split the project into two and build one school first and then a second; build one school and renovate the Pickering Middle School; or build one school and use Pickering as an elementary school.

But the panel seemed in no mood to consider them.

Before the vote to end the city’s bid for school dollars, Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy invited Donald Castle, a founding member of Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, the grassroots organization that campaigned against the schools, to speak to the committee. The mayor said he had an alternative plan. But he declined.

School Committeewoman Donna Coppola voiced concern about where new students would be placed.

“We have kids coming in that will not have seats,” she said.

Edward Calnan said the committee did their job and despite the vote against the schools, the members should be proud of the work they did.

“We were told we needed to provide space for 1,600 students and that’s what we did,” he said. “We did an exhaustive search for sites in the city and came up with the best ones that were the least expensive to make the project viable.”

Off and running in Lynn

Kennedy said it’s clear the voters have no appetite for more taxes and she will honor their wishes.

“The people spoke loud and clear,” she said. “The problem was the price tag and I’m just ready to drop the whole thing. They say insanity is doing the same thing but expecting different results. That’s what we would be doing if we did anything but drop it.”

With that, the 16-member group voted unanimously to tell the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the  quasi-independent government authority created to help pay for the construction of public schools, that Lynn won’t be seeking funds.

At the close of the meeting, Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham choked back tears as she expressed her disappointment in the failure of the vote for the new schools.

“Our new Thurgood Marshall Middle School is a model for the entire state and I was hoping that just viewing that could carry an equalized opportunity for all our students,” she said. “But it was not to be.” 

In an interview following the meeting, Castle defended his position not to speak to the committee.

“It was a bag job,” he said. “They wanted to pick a fight with me, I’m not going to get into an argument with the superintendent that would make me look dumb. The proponents never sat down with us or called us once. I feel bad for the kids, but now they want to talk to us in the 11th hour. No thanks.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Off and running in Lynn

PHOTO BY MARK LORENZ
State Sen. Thomas McGee, with his wife Maria, signs his nomination papers as election coordinator Mary Jules watches.

State Sen. Thomas M. McGee’s decision to take out nomination papers Monday and declare his candidacy for mayor kicks off the 2017 municipal election season in Lynn.

It would be easy to call the matchup between Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy and McGee a Lynn mayors race for the ages. But doing so might prompt Kennedy to point out how she essentially ran a write-in campaign in 2009 to defeat two-term mayor Edward J. Clancy Jr.

She beat Clancy only after a recount, but Kennedy received electoral vindication in 2013 by soundly trouncing former City Council President Timothy Phelan, a popular councilor who made the Council Chamber a stage for his agenda during the 2013 campaign season.

The late Patrick J. McManus also did his share to make Lynn political history. In his first run for mayor, McManus took on not only Mayor Albert V. DiVirgilio, but another popular local political figure, John L. O’Brien Jr.  McManus won the election and the only political hiccup he faced during his 10 years as mayor came when he finished second in the 1993 preliminary election behind former Councilor Joseph Scanlon III. McManus went on to beat Scanlon in the final.

McGee hasn’t run a tough, knock-down campaign since 2002 when he won election to succeed Clancy in the Senate. But the 61-year-old Pine Hill resident combines a quiet deliberative manner with an outspoken passion for the the city of Lynn. McGee will surround himself in the coming weeks with smart, experienced campaigners.

Weighing in on possible Kennedy v. McGee race

Like Kennedy, he supported the failed proposal to build two new local middle schools. But McGee and Kennedy kept fairly quiet in the weeks leading up to the March 21 special election that saw the school proposal and a proposed property tax debt exclusion get squashed by the voters.

Both candidates will examine the school vote with a practiced eye and calculate its political ramifications. The strong “no” vote sent a message about city finances and voter anger over a city demand for additional taxes to build new schools.

It also prompted a negative reaction to the city’s newest arrivals. More than one “no” voter took to social media to oppose building new schools and provide educational opportunities for immigrants. Kennedy and McGee are both above this sort of rhetoric, but that does not mean they will not be asked to address it during the mayoral campaign.

McGee in his first comments as candidate for mayor took the smart approach in analyzing the school vote. Now is the time, he said, for the city to “step back and take a deep breath” and then begin a dialogue over “what new schools mean to the community.”

Kennedy, meanwhile, is wrestling with the realities of what it means to be mayor by asking city department heads to make across-the-board cuts.

City finances, schools and a host of other issues, including development, will be on the agenda when McGee and Kennedy face off in campaign debates. Long before the first debate is scheduled, people who like both candidates and have relationships with them will have to pick someone to support or declare themselves neutral. Let the campaign begin.

I think I can make a difference, McGee says

PHOTO BY MARK LORENZ
Election coordinator Mary Jules greets state Sen. Thomas McGee and his wife, Maria, prior to McGee pulling his nomination papers.

By THOMAS GRILLO and THOR JOURGENSEN

LYNN — The city’s worst kept secret that state Sen. Thomas McGee would seek the corner office became official Monday, when the Lynn Democrat pulled his nomination papers from the City Clerk’s office.

“I am excited to … start a discussion on where we can go and build a vision,” McGee said. “I think I can make a difference for the city.”

McGee is expected to face Republican Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy next fall in what would be a no-holds-barred race to lead the city for the next four years.

McGee, 61, was elected to represent West Lynn and Nahant in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1994. After serving four terms, he won a seat in the Senate in 2002 in a district that includes Lynn, Lynnfield, Marblehead, Nahant, Saugus and Swampscott.  

He said his years in the Legislature has made him a unifier who can help bring this city together. In addition to “building consensus,” he said his legislative service has been marked by honing budget crafting skills and pursuing initiatives. He said economic growth and neighborhoods will be the focus of the campaign.

McGee called last week’s school referendum that sought taxpayer support for a pair of new middle schools “polarizing.” He said it’s time to take a deep breath and start a new conversation about the need for new schools.

“It means engaging people,” he said. “We need to talk about what new schools mean to the community.”

Benny Coviello: ‘The mayor of Stop & Shop’

McGee supported the ballot question that sought approval for a 652-student school to be built on Parkland Avenue and a  second facility to serve 1,008 students would be constructed on McManus Field on Commercial Street. The $188.5 million project cost would have been offset by a minimum contribution of $97.1 million from the Massachusetts School Building Authority. But voters rejected the measure by a wide margin.

He is the son of legendary state Rep. Thomas W. McGee who served in the Massachusetts House for nearly three decades and as speaker for 10 of those years.

Kennedy became the city’s first female mayor in 2009, when as city councilor-at-large, she unseated incumbent Mayor Edward “Chip” Clancy by a few dozen votes. She won re-election 2013 when she soundly defeated Timothy Phelan.

The mayor declined to be interviewed.

In a statement she said “I’m looking forward to running on my record. I’m sure the campaign will offer voters a choice between two very different types of elected officials. May the best woman win.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Photo by Mark Lorenz

Lynn says no; so what now?

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Cathy Rowe posts early returns Tuesday night at Lynn City Hall.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — One day after a ballot question to build two middle schools lost in a landslide, proponents are reeling from the outcome.

“We knocked on doors and got great feedback from folks, so we were surprised and saddened by the outcome,” said Brant Duncan, president of the Lynn Teachers Union. “I don’t know why there was such large opposition.”

In a special election on Tuesday, voters rejected two ballot questions that would have authorized a $188.5 million plan for a 652-student school on Parkland Avenue and a second school to house 1,008 students on McManus Field on Commercial Street.

Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, a grassroots organization founded to fight the schools, managed to get the no vote out. They argued that the 44 acres near the proposed Parkland Avenue school site should be reserved exclusively for future burial grounds and open space.

At a meeting of the Pickering School Building Committee at City Hall on Wednesday, Lynn Stapleton, the school project manager, thanked the panel for their hard work and acknowledged the sadness in the room.

“It was an overwhelming no vote,” she said. “And the votes came from well beyond where the school was to be located. The outcome was really upsetting, but we will move on.”

Schools out in Lynn

Donald Castle, a founding member of Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, said he plans to meet with the mayor in the coming weeks.  

“We want to give everyone time to consider the results,” he said.  “I extended an olive branch to the mayor and the committee to pick another site. And we ask the City Council to keep the 44 acres for the cemetery.”

The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), the quasi-independent government authority that funds school construction projects, which agreed to fund a portion of the Lynn project, gives the city 10 days to explain why the vote failed and how the city wants to proceed. Under the agency’s rules, the city could withdraw or modify its plan and re-apply for funds by April 7 or meet next year’s April deadline.

One of the options is to build just one school, Stapleton said. Or the city could consider a phased option where construction begins on one school and then another. The other possibility is to simply add more classrooms at the Thurgood Marshall Middle School. The city could also withdraw from the competitive funding process.

Given MSBA’s timelines, if the city decides to go forward with a new plan, nothing will happen until 2020.

Full results of Lynn school vote

But Stapleton suggested this was not the time to make any decisions.

“Emotions are a little raw right now,” she said. “Let’s think about it, schedule another meeting and see what we might come up with for alternatives. We don’t have lots of time. But if you think that you have any kind of plan that might conceivably work, I recommend that we submit it to the MSBA within 10 days and see if we can get them to work with us. Otherwise, your only other option is to withdraw from the program and submit next year and try to get back in.”

Following the meeting, Dr. Catherine Latham, superintendent of Lynn Public Schools, said she was heartbroken for the school children and the city.

“I don’t think the vote was about the money, but I just don’t know,” she said. “I wish I knew.”

Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy said she needs time to consider the vote.

“I need to figure out why they voted no,” she said.

Duncan, the union president, said the vote doesn’t resolve the need for more classroom space or the condition of school buildings.

“The Pickering’s roof was leaking significantly on election day from the melting snow,” he said. “It’s the city’s responsibility to come up with a solution.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tigrillo@itemlive.com.

Schools out in Lynn

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Judy Odiorre, Jeanne Melanson, and Marie Muise celebrate the “Vote No” victory at the Old Tyme Restaurant.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN —  Voters said no to a nearly $200 million proposal to build two middle schools Tuesday, rejecting the measure by a decisive margin.

The controversial ballot asked voters to green light construction of the schools while a second question sought approval to pay for them. The first vote failed 63 to 37 percent, the funding question lost 64 to 36 percent.

“I am really proud of my neighborhood grassroots group that stood up for what they believe in,” said Donald Castle, a founding member of Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, an advocacy organization founded to fight the ballot question. “The city, and in particular, the mayor and the superintendent, really need to reassess how they do business with taxpayers.”

Castle said the vote turned on the process, financing, the site that includes land that the founding fathers intended as cemetery expansion, as well as wetlands.

It was a spirited campaign where proponents and opponents took their case to Facebook and in dueling op-ed pieces.  The Item editorialized in favor of the project on Page 1 twice in the final weeks of the campaign.

Of the 8,539 votes cast on the first question, 3,189 were in favor while 5,350 were against. On the second question, of the 8,454 votes, 3,014 were in favor while 5,440 opposed. The no vote was nearly unanimous in every ward and precinct across the city.  

Full results of Lynn school vote

The vote is a setback for Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, the superintendent, the Lynn Teachers Association and nearly all of the city’s elected officials who were in favor of the project.

“I’m disappointed for the students more than anything,” said Kennedy.  

As far as renovating the existing Pickering Middle School, Kennedy said that is not possible.

“We can’t afford it,” she said. “That would be $44 million out of the city’s budget … there is absolutely no way we can afford to renovate Pickering.”

Dr. Catherine Latham, superintendent of Lynn Public Schools, said she was greatly disappointed that the vote to build two new middle schools failed.  

“The greatest investment a city can make is for the education of its children,” she said in an email.  “Apparently our residents are unable to make such a investment at this time. I will continue to work with the state and the city to examine possible solutions to our school needs.”

If approved, the city would have built a 652-student school near the Pine Grove Cemetery and Breeds Pond Reservoir on Parkland Avenue. A second school would have housed 1,008 students on McManus Field on Commercial Street. In making the case for the new schools, Latham said 3,100 students attend the city’s three middle schools. By 2020, enrollment is expected to soar by 20 percent, adding another 600 students to the mix. The new schools were needed to fix a problem of insufficient space and inadequate facilities.

The new schools would have added an additional $200 to the average tax bill for a single-family home each year for the next 25 years.

City Council President Darren Cyr, an enthusiastic supporter of the new schools,  said he was extremely disappointed in the vote.

“I feel sorry for the kids in our city,” he said. “They are the losers. There are no winners.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tigrillo@itemlive.com.

Full results of Lynn school vote

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Devin Robbins, Holly Shorten, and Luise Fonseca celebrate the “Vote No” victory at the Old Tyme Restaurant.

LYNN — Residents overwhelmingly rejected a ballot initiative to fund two new middle schools in a special election Tuesday. According to an election summary report from the city, 8,585 — about 16.3 percent — of Lynn’s 52,599 registered voters took to the polls.

For Question One, 3,189, or 37.35 percent, of voters said yes, while while 5,350, or 62.65 percent, said no. For Question Two, 3,014, or 35.65 percent, said yes, while 5,440, or 64.35 percent, said no.

These numbers reflect 100 percent of the city’s 28 precincts. See the the breakdown of precincts below. The first figure represents Question 1, while the second figure represents Question 2.

Ward 1, Precinct 1

Yes: 389, 358
No: 461, 475

Ward 1, Precinct 2

Yes: 412, 373
No: 533, 556

Ward 1, Precinct 3

Yes: 305, 286
No: 464, 481

Ward 1, Precinct 4

Yes: 235, 222
No: 324, 330

Ward 2, Precinct 1

Yes: 383, 362
No: 412, 412

Ward 2, Precinct 2

Yes: 87, 85
No: 180, 179

Ward 2, Precinct 3

Yes: 25, 24
No: 76, 75

Ward 2, Precinct 4

Yes: 48, 51
No: 93, 87

Ward 3, Precinct 1

Yes: 112, 113
No: 227, 230

Ward 3, Precinct 2

Yes: 69, 63
No: 145, 149

Ward 3, Precinct 3

Yes: 103, 97
No: 163, 166

Ward 3, Precinct 4

Yes: 88, 83
No: 137, 139

Ward 4, Precinct 1

Yes: 30, 27
No: 29, 32

Ward 4, Precinct 2

Yes: 19, 22
No: 29, 28

Ward 4, Precinct 3

Yes: 55, 55
No: 65, 64

Ward 4, Precinct 4

Yes: 68, 64
No: 99, 99

Ward 5, Precinct 1

Yes: 109, 105
No: 313, 313

Ward 5, Precinct 2

Yes: 23, 23
No: 48, 48

Ward 5, Precinct 3

Yes: 24, 21
No: 31, 34

Ward 5, Precinct 4

Yes: 66, 60
No: 81, 86

Ward 6, Precinct 1

Yes: 79, 74
No: 164, 167

Ward 6, Precinct 2

Yes: 14, 15
No: 50, 49

Ward 6, Precinct 3

Yes: 16, 15
No: 28, 26

Ward 6, Precinct 4

Yes: 28, 27
No: 65, 64

Ward 7, Precinct 1

Yes: 142, 137
No: 389, 391

Ward 7, Precinct 2

Yes: 134, 127
No: 335, 343

Ward 7, Precinct 3

Yes: 78, 75
No: 196, 199

Ward 7, Precinct 4

Yes: 48, 50
No: 213, 209

The 6 ‘alternative facts’ of school no-voters

COMMENTARY BY CITY COUNCIL PRESIDENT DARREN CYR

I write as president of the Lynn City Council and for the councilors-at-large. We cannot in good conscience sit by and allow the negative, defamatory statements, distortions and outright lies from the “vote no on two new schools” team go unanswered.  

The negativity and outright venom spewed by the opposition shocks the values that we hold true in our hearts. We are utterly disgusted to read social media posts stating that “those children” from foreign countries who speak with accents do not deserve a quality education.  

The anger and nastiness of this campaign by the “vote no” supporters makes the recent presidential election look like a hug fest.

We as Lynners have a unique opportunity to literally change the lives of more than 100,000 of our children for the next century. It is ironic that the residents of Ward 1 who pay some of the highest property taxes in the city are forced to send their children to a crumbling building that does not meet the educational needs of the 21st century.  

Not so long ago, a former Marblehead state representative told his constituents they should support strong state school funding for Lynn. Swampscott raises captains of industry, he said, who “need very well educated employees.”

As Lynners, we find that statement and such a sentiment to be a slap in the face.  We sincerely hope that no Lynner believes that we should be looked down upon by any other community.  

We are proud to be from Lynn and want nothing but the very best for our families and children.  

We’re not anti-education, ‘no’-voters say

The irony is not lost on us collectively that Swampscott educational leaders have toured the new Thurgood Marshall Middle School and intend to model future construction in their town on this project that was finished on time and under budget. The proposed schools in large part will be modeled after Marshall and the West Lynn site will be almost identical.

“Alternative fact No. 1” put forth by the opposition claims that Lynn can simply go back to the drawing board and select a new site. This is just not true. Lynn has spent almost $1.1 million on architectural drawings, traffic studies, sewer studies and wetland/drinking supply protection studies. There is no more money to funnel into additional studies and plans.  

The plain fact of the matter is that the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) has insisted that one of the schools be located in the East Lynn District. There are no other sites in East Lynn that exist that are financially or environmentally feasible.  

The Magnolia Avenue site is not a viable option. That  land is located in a flood zone. There is an existing Massachusetts Water Resources Authority pipe that runs underneath the playground that supplies water to the citizens from Swampscott and Marblehead.  The site is not large enough to accommodate a 600-plus student facility without taking by eminent domain a portion of the neighboring elderly apartment complex. Such a taking would result in dozens of elderly persons being relocated to new homes.

If the citizens of Lynn reject the two modern state-of-the-art educational facilities, Lynn will go to the end of the line and be forced to submit a new application. Exploding enrollment projects show that by 2021, Lynn will have either double sessions or classrooms with 50 children.  In all likelihood, Lynn would not get back to the front of the line at the MSBA until 2019 or 2020.  

This ensures double sessions or students crammed into classrooms like sardines. But even this ignores the fact that there are no other viable sites in East Lynn. Therefore, it makes no sense to re-apply. Lynn will just dump good money after bad fixing up a Pickering Middle School that can never be adequately rebuilt for today’s middle school educational needs.

Current system not sustainable, Latham says

“Alternative Fact No. 2” as put forth by the opposition states Lynn will be taking multiple homes at the reservoir site. This is just not true. Lynn heard the voices of the opposition and redrew the plans so that only one home will be taken by eminent domain.  

The wonderful woman who was the subject of news coverage several months ago will not lose her home. The younger woman who would be required to relocate has and will continue to be offered every reasonable accommodation. The Lynn City Council has gone on record supporting the idea of moving her home several hundred yards down the road so that she can remain in the home she built.

Opponents ignore the fact that two homes were taken by eminent domain in order to construct Thurgood Marshall. Those relocated for Marshall were residents of Ward 3 and we know for a fact that they were extremely satisfied with the efforts Lynn undertook to relocate them to a new home of their choosing.  

“Alternative fact No. 3” put forth by the opposition states that the cost of the school project will be $5,000 per taxpayer. This figure will be spread out over 25 years. In return, Lynners will see their property values soar. Think about it: Residents with children looking to buy property will not want to buy in Lynn if our schools are an embarrassment. We urge Lynners to take a tour of the existing Pickering.

Quite simply, the physical condition of Pickering is an embarrassment.

The more families are satisfied with the conditions of our schools, the greater the demand will be for our own homes. Our greatest assets are our homes. With the construction of two new schools, our homes will go up in value considerably.  By approving these two new schools, we have just increased our own net worth by tens of thousands of dollars almost immediately.  

“Alternative fact No. 4” put forth by the opposition states that the property is part of Lynn Woods. This outright fabrication can simply be rebutted by the fact that the Friends of Lynn Woods have publicly said that the land is not part of the Lynn Woods Reservation.

“Alternative fact No. 5” put forth by the opposition states that the land is cemetery land. The deeds for the subject land clearly state that the City of Lynn owns this land with no restrictions. An attorney for the “vote no” group has conceded at a public hearing before the Lynn City Council that the deeds on file at the Registry of Deeds contain no restrictions requiring this land to be used for cemetery purposes.

Conversely, the Lynn City Council is on record as supporting the sale of 32 acres to the Pine Grove Cemetery and said deed will state the land will be used solely for cemetery purposes.  Because there exists no deed restrictions or conditions on file at the Registry of Deeds, the Lynn City Council would be free to sell this land to a developer to construct hundreds of new homes.

The Lynn City Council did not seek such a solution. Rather, it unanimously voted to commence the process to transfer this land to the Pine Grove Cemetery Commission at no cost.

“Alternative fact No. 6” put forth by the opposition states that the selection of these sites was done behind closed doors with no public input. All meetings of the Pickering Site Committee have been open to the public.  Three public forums were held where our community could speak up on the proposed sites.

Members of the Lynn City Council have personally met and spoke with the leader of the opposition on almost a dozen occasions. Our city council colleagues have attempted to address or mitigate each and every one of their stated concerns.  

Now is the time for us as a community to step up.  The negativity and anger is unacceptable. We are supporting the two new schools because our only interest is the children of Lynn.  

Our fellow Lynners: Let’s vote yes on two new schools so that our children will have the necessary tools to be captains of industry for generations to come.  


Editor’s note: City Council President Darren P. Cyr wrote this editorial and signed it with fellow councilors Buzzy Barton, Council Vice President, and Councilors-at-large Daniel F. Cahill, Brian P. LaPierre and Hong L. Net.

 

Swampscott wants new schools

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — School officials are seeking state support for a new school building, more than two years after the town rejected a district-wide elementary school.

“I will be submitting two Statement of Interests (SOI) to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) by the deadline of April 7,” Superintendent Pamela Angelakis said in an email. “Hadley School will be the primary submission, while I will also be submitting one for the middle school. The reason behind the two submissions is to demonstrate that Swampscott has a long-range vision for its schools. We’ve spent the last two and a half years reflecting on the last process and developing an Educational Vision K-12.”

In the statement of interest, the district is asked to identify perceived deficiencies in a school building, and also indicates what type of project it thinks is appropriate. The SOI is completed by districts seeking MSBA funding, according to the MSBA website.

Carin Marshall, school committee chairwoman, said the intent for Hadley Elementary School would be for replacement and a new building, while the interest for Swampscott Middle School would be for renovation. The new building to replace Hadley could potentially be the same size or larger, but those details haven’t been determined yet, she added.

The intent with a new school building, Marshall said, is to align with the educational vision. The K-12 educational vision, presented in November 2015, outlines the preferred educational model for Swampscott Public Schools, with that being grade level consolidation. Grade level groupings were determined by developmental, academic and social emotional needs. School officials determined that fifth grade belonged with the elementary level, rather than middle school, as the preferred model.

The existing public school configuration is preschool, three K-4 elementary schools — Hadley, Clarke and Stanley — a grade 5-8 middle school and a grade 9-12 high school. The preferred new configuration would be a pre-K to 2 early education center, grade 3-5 elementary school, grade 6-8 middle school and a grade 9-12 high school, according to the educational vision.

Conceivably, the new school could be part of that goal, possibly a K-2 school, Marshall said, but plans are uncertain at this stage. She said the most likely scenario is a new elementary school, as that is the highest need.

Marshall said the middle school needs some serious renovation, including all new windows and roofs, and would need to be brought up to today’s educational standards. Even though the building is relatively modern, as it was built in 1958, she said “it is still very different from what you would build today for educational needs in 2016.”

City stands to collect $175K for parking tickets

Hadley School is the oldest school building in town and why it’s the primary statement of interest, Marshall said. She said an example of the building’s current condition would be the large amount school officials are paying to replace all of the boilers in that school just to keep it heated and safe for the children.

The cost of the project is more than $400,000. She said the money there is an example of how the building is negatively affecting the town. Conditions at Hadley have caused students to miss school in the past.

“We’re constantly having to put money into this building that’s far past its useful life,” Marshall said. “We’re spending money to keep these buildings limping along and it’s ultimately not fair to the students or all the taxpayers in town. We have to address these issues.”

Going forward, Marshall said all of the K-8 students need new or upgraded facilities.

The effort started after the failed Town Meeting vote in 2014 for a consolidated elementary school on the site of Swampscott Middle School on Forest Avenue. A task force was put together, made up of people for and against the new school, with the intent to put another statement of interest in.

In July 2014, the MSBA gave final approval for a district-wide elementary school in Swampscott. The plans included building a new school for grades 1-4 on land adjacent to the middle school. Clarke School would have been converted to house pre-kindergarten to kindergarten. Stanley School would have been demolished with the land converted to athletic fields and playgrounds. The proposed project cost $52.6 million, and the town would have been responsible for approximately $35 million.

The proposal had to pass two votes, a two-thirds majority at Town Meeting and a town-wide ballot vote requiring a simple majority. Town Meeting voted 140-98 in favor of the school in October 2014, falling short of the two-thirds majority. The school was rejected by more than 2,500 votes on the ballot initiative that year.

“In 2014, the community was presented with a plan without much conversation to address their concerns,” Angelakis said in an email. “Moving forward, once the SOIs are submitted and while we wait to hear if we are accepted back into the program, there will be outreach to the community. The plan for community outreach right now includes community forums, building tours, meetings with individual town boards and committees.

“It’s important to note that no site has been selected at this time and that site determination comes as part of the feasibility study when and if we are accepted by the MSBA,” Angelakis continued.

The school committee is scheduled to vote on the statements of interest on March 22. The Board of Selectmen would also have to approve the statements before the April 7 MSBA deadline, Marshall said.

If Swampscott is accepted by the MSBA, Town Meeting would have to approve funding for a feasibility study. Once the study is completed, architects would be hired to design the building and then Town Meeting would have to approve funding the school. A ballot vote would also be needed for the project.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Lynn school election snowed out

PHOTO BY SCOTT EISEN
Lynn City Clerk Janet Rowe, left, and election coordinator Mary Jules help Tim and Deborah Potter cast absentee ballots.

By THOMAS GRILLO

SALEM — As a late season blizzard threatens to shut down the Bay State with more than a foot of snow, today’s high stakes election on funding two new middle schools has been postponed.

Essex Superior Court Judge Peter Lauriat issued the ruling on Monday in response to a request from the city. Less than three hours later, in an emergency meeting, the City Council moved the election to next Tuesday, March 21.

Lauriat approved a request by Richard Vitali, the city’s assistant city solicitor, to delay the special election. While the city had hoped the judge would approve the March 21 date, Lauriat declined.

“The City Council set the date of the first vote, they should set the new one,” Lauriat said from the bench.

That set in motion a swift response from City Hall to call for an emergency council meeting

“I’m glad,” said Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy. “I wanted to make sure we got into court today because it’s becoming more and more evident that it would be a real public safety hazard to have people attempting to go out to vote in a storm like this.”

Current system not sustainable, Latham says

Voters are being asked to pay for a 652-student school to be built near Pine Grove Cemetery on Parkland Avenue. A second facility to serve 1,008 students would be constructed on McManus Field on Commercial Street.

If approved, property owners will be responsible for $91.4 million of the total $188.5 million project cost. School officials said $11 million in contingency funds are included in the overall calculations. If those monies are not used, officials said it would reduce the taxpayer portion by that amount, making the taxpayers’ bill about $80 million. City officials say the average homeowner would pay from $200-$275 a year extra on their real estate tax bill for the next 25 years.

Donald Castle, a founding member of Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, a grassroots organization founded to fight the ballot question, said his group will spend the extra week before the election to convince residents to vote no.

“The fight continues,” he said. “We will keep organizing to oppose this.”

We’re not anti-education, ‘no’-voters say

In a filing to the city on campaign spending, Two Schools for Lynn, the group organized to support the project, reported they raised $11,055 from Jan. 31 through Feb. 24. Much of the cash, $5,000, came from the Lynn Teachers Association. Public officials also made donations. City Councilor and state Rep. Daniel Cahill contributed $500, the mayor wrote a check for $200, City Councilor Brian LaPierre gave $450 and City Councilor Buzzy Barton donated $200.

The group opposing the ballot initiative, Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, failed to file on time. Castle said the report was in the mail and estimated the group raised about $7,000.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

School vote moved to Tuesday, March 21

LYNN — Under the looming possibility of more than a foot of snow Tuesday, the special election on funding two new middle schools has been postponed a week to Tuesday, March 21.

The decision was made during an emergency meeting by the City Council.

Voters are being asked to pay for a 652-student school to be built near the Pine Grove Cemetery on Parkland Avenue. A second facility to serve 1,008 students would be constructed on McManus Field on Commercial Street. The polls will open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.

Current system not sustainable, Latham says

We’re not anti-education, ‘no’-voters say

Kennedy makes final push on school vote

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy speaks with the Item at her office.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy won’t say whether she will seek a third term this fall, but the city’s chief executive is sure acting like a candidate.

In a wide ranging interview with The Item this week, the mayor laid out her goals for 2017.

At the top of her list is winning Tuesday’s vote for construction of two new middle schools. The special election on March 14 asks homeowners to approve a property tax increase for 25 years for the $188.5 million project that would build a school on Parkland Avenue and a second in West Lynn.

“Next week will give us an indication of whether we will be able to move forward with providing our students with the same kind of education they receive at the new Marshall Middle School,” she said.  “I just hope there is no confusion that voters need to vote yes on both questions in order for it to pass. If you favor the new schools, vote yes for both or it will fail.”

We’re not anti-education, ‘no’-voters say

While the mayor is optimistic that voters will approve the ballot initiative, she is considering Plan B should the vote fail.

‘We would go back to the Massachusetts School Building Authority and start over,” said the mayor, referring to the quasi-independent government agency that funds a portion of school construction projects. “And hope that within a few years we could turn the vote around.”

While opponents of the school site on Parkland Avenue say a better alternative is to renovate the Pickering Middle School, the mayor said the city lacks the $44.2 million it would take to gut the 90,000-square-foot facility and install new systems, classrooms, gym, cafeteria and labs.

“We simply can’t afford it out of the city budget,” she said.

Current system not sustainable, Latham says

Also in the planning stages is a marketing staffer for the Lynn Auditorium, the city’s 2,100-seat concert hall, that would be paid for by ticket sales.

“We could reach more people and expand if we had someone to do marketing,” she said.

Kennedy is also planning to spend $400,000 for a study to replace Engine 9 on Tower Hill and Engine 7 on Pine Hill with a fire safety building in West Lynn at a cost of $15-20 million.

“Those buildings are 100 years old and continuing to show signs of aging,” she said.  “We would build one facility and perhaps move dispatch into the new station and save on rent.”

The mayor also plans to seek $100,000 in grants to restore the Angell Memorial Fountain at Broad and Nahant streets. Built in the early 1900s  in memory of George T. Angell, the founder of Boston’s Angell Memorial Hospital, the fountain once served as a horse trough.

In addition, the mayor said summer job applications for teens are available at the personnel office in City Hall. Selection for the 120 jobs will be done by lottery.

While no one has declared their candidacy for mayor, local political observers say Kennedy will run. State Sen. Thomas McGee (D-Lynn) and City Councilor-at-Large Brian LaPierre have said they are exploring the possibility of running. McGee recently held a fundraiser in Boston and may have been the person behind a citywide poll on the race.

Kennedy and LaPierre said they had nothing to do with the poll. But a McGee spokeswoman did not respond when asked the question.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

We’re not anti-education, ‘no’-voters say

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Donald Castle and Gary Welch argue against the construction of two new middle schools in Lynn.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Leaders of the opposition to next Tuesday’s ballot question on construction of two middle schools insist they are not anti-education and or anti-new schools.

They argue one of the sites is unacceptable because it robs land intended for the expansion of Pine Grove Cemetery, it’s too close to Breeds Pond Reservoir, the buildings are too expensive and the process has failed to include opposing voices.

“The Parkland Avenue site is one of the worst and this process has been rigged,” said Gary Welch, a member of Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, a grassroots organization founded to fight the location of the Parkland Avenue school. “Our argument is based on this being the wrong site, although we know some people will vote no because of the cost.”

Donald Castle, a founding member of the group, said officials selected Parkland Avenue before there were any public hearings. He said there are cheaper alternatives.

In an interview with The Item’s editorial board on Thursday, Welch and Castle made the case against the $188.5 million project and urged residents to vote no.

If approved, a 652-student school would be built near the Pine Grove Cemetery and Breeds Pond Reservoir on Parkland Avenue. A second one to serve 1,008 students would be constructed in West Lynn on McManus Field on Commercial Street.

The new schools will add an additional $200 to the average tax bill for a single-family homeowner each year for the next 25 years.

Current system not sustainable, Latham says

While Castle and Welch agree with the city’s attorney that deeds clearly state the 44 vacant acres at Pine Grove is owned by the city, they say it was always intended for a future graveyard.  

“It is city land,” Castle said. “But we want to uphold what our forefathers did 127 years ago to keep it cemetery land for so many reasons: to bury people and to protect the environment and the wildlife.”

Castle and Welch dispute the reasoning behind the Pickering Middle School Building Committee’s rejection of at least 10 other potential sites for the Parkland school.

“The feasibility study had a number of different locations that we favor,” Welch said. “Come up with a better site and I’ll vote yes.”

He said the best solution is to renovate the existing Pickering Middle School. The other option is to build the middle school in West Lynn that would serve Pickering students and others, Welch said.

Castle disputed the $44.2 million cost of the renovation, that school officials said will not be reimbursed by the state.

“Show me where that $44 million came from,” he said. “We don’t think that’s legit … I don’t know how much it will cost, but I don’t think it will cost $44 million.”

They also object to any development so close to the reservoir.

“We are concerned about building so close to the reservoir,” Welch said. “We are being sold a pig in a poke and we’re being asked for something that no one knows much about.”   


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

 

Current system not sustainable, Latham says

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Edward Calnan of the Pickering School Building Committee, Inspectional Services Department Director Michael Donovan and Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham make the case for new schools.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN If voters reject the ballot initiative on Tuesday to build a pair of new middle schools, students face the possibility of split sessions, according to the superintendent.

“If we don’t build these schools, our sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders will be in double sessions in a very short period of time, possibly within two years,” said Dr. Catherine Latham.

Today, 3,100 students attend the city’s three middle schools. By 2020, enrollment is expected to soar by 20 percent, adding another 600 students to the mix.

“Our schools cannot sustain that many students,” she said. Under double sessions, one group of students would attend classes from 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. while the next group would arrive at 1 p.m. and go until 5:30 p.m., she said.

In an interview with The Item’s editorial board on Thursday, Latham, Michael Donovan, Inspectional Services Department director, Edward Calnan, member of the Pickering Middle School Building Committee, and Thomas Iarrobino, secretary of the Lynn School Committee, made the case for the $188.5 million project.

If approved, a 652-student school would be built near the Pine Grove Cemetery and Breeds Pond Reservoir on Parkland Avenue. A second one to serve 1,008 students would be constructed on McManus Field on Commercial Street.

The new schools will add an additional $200 to the average tax bill for a single-family home each year for the next 25 years.

We’re not anti-education, ‘no’-voters say

Calnan said they explored more than a dozen potential sites, but they were dropped due to a variety of issues. Some were in a flood zone or marsh land, others had hazardous waste that precluded school construction. A site at Magnolia Street would boost building costs by as much as $800,000 to move a water pipe that serves Swampscott and Marblehead, officials said.

A vacant parcel on Rockdale Avenue and Verona Street was examined, but the committee found the tight residential neighborhood was difficult to access and is privately-owned. They also looked at General Electric Co. properties on Bennett Street and on Elmwood Avenue. But those were rejected because of environmental concerns, they said.

Latham said all of the city’s middle school students should have the same experience as those attending the new $67 million Thurgood Marshall Middle School.

Last spring, the 181,847-square-foot school opened for more than 1,000 students. The three buildings are divided by clusters, each distinguished by a different color. In addition to an outdoor courtyard, lots of natural light, the soundproof classrooms block any hint of the commuter rail trains that run past the rear of the school and the sounds of musical instruments from several music classes.  

In addition, there are suites for special education and art. The school boasts computer rooms complete with Apple computers. It contains home economics rooms, a woodworking shop, a television production studio and a health center.

Iarrobino, who serves as the liaison between the schools and the School Committee, said any discussion of school must include a link to the local economy.

“If folks are contemplating opening a business in Lynn, the first thing they will ask about is where will their employees attend school and what are the schools like,” he said. “We have an obligation to them and they have a right to the best quality education that is available to them, not just in the suburbs, but right here in an urban district.”  


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Pickering principal states case for new school

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Pictured is the boys’ locker room at the Pickering Middle School.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN If you’re undecided or planning to vote against construction of two middle schools in next week’s special election, Kevin Rittershaus wants to meet you.

The principal of the Pickering Middle School has hundreds of reasons why voters should vote yes. If approved on Tuesday, the city would spend $188.5 million to build a three-story middle school on Parkland Avenue and a four-story one on Commercial Street.

“This is an ancient building trying to do 21st century education,” he said. “Every inch of space is used for something, former closets have been turned into offices while counselors and music teachers are working in corridors. Come and see my school and compare it with what kids get at the new Marshall Middle School.”

Rittershaus, who has worked at Pickering since the late 1990s and is now in his fourth year as principal, brought The Item on a tour of the worn-out grade 6-8 school on Conomo Avenue Wednesday.

There’s peeling paint on the auditorium’s tin ceiling and water damage on the walls. The special education and health teachers share an office, making private sessions impossible. The computer lab has three dozen dated personal computers for 620 students.

Let the transformation begin in Malden

The school adjustment counselor has a table in a 250-square-foot corridor space to meet students. The school’s library was closed because it was needed for a classroom. It was the same story with home economics. Down the hall, the school’s original lockers have never been replaced and a music room in a hallway is shared with a vending machine. The boiler room resembles a scene out of “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”

The art room lacks a sink, easels, drawing tables and storage space.

Angeliki Russell, the school’s art teacher, said while students create art good enough to be hung, the children would be better served with more space, sinks, higher tables, improved lighting, better chairs and places to store art materials.

Because of overcrowding, Pickering has four, one-half lunch periods that start at 11 a.m. just to fit all the kids in.

Joseph Smart, the city’s building and grounds director, said the roof leaks and water has damaged the historic tin ceilings.

“The building needs a new roof,” he said. “The auditorium was painted in 2014, it’s already peeling.”

In a section of the building that is below grade, moisture is coming through the brick and onto the plaster.

“We’ve done numerous repairs, but to do it right we’d have to dig it out, weatherproof it and do the inside work,” he said.

The city’s Inspectional Services Department estimates it will cost $44.2 million to renovate the 99,000-square-foot facility.

Proponents say it makes more sense to build a new school. The vote on Tuesday asks property owners to be responsible for $91.4 million or 51.5 percent of the total project cost. School officials said $11 million in contingency funds are included in the overall cost. If those monies are not used, it would reduce the taxpayer portion by that amount, making the taxpayers’ bill about $80 million.

The city said the average single-family homeowner would boost the tax bill to just under $200 more per year for 25 years. For multi-family units, the city estimates the added cost per year would range from $257-$269.

Rittershaus said there are lots of misconceptions about the project. For example, he said parents have told him that the land for the Parkland Avenue school belongs to Lynn Woods Reservation or the Pine Grove Cemetery, but in fact the land is owned by the city, he said.

“People don’t realize the work that’s gone into studying site selection,” he said. “We’ve spent days analyzing the potential locations and not one of them is ideal for everyone.”

On Tuesday, the Pine Grove Cemetery Commission took no action on a plan to transfer 32 acres from the city to the cemetery for a possible expansion, according to James Lamanna, the city’s attorney. In exchange, the commission was expected to provide about 12 acres to the city for the Parkland Avenue school to avoid any potential lawsuit.

“I am still hopeful it will happen, but it won’t happen before the election,” he said.

Construction of the school on Parkland Avenue has generated opposition from neighbors who argue the land should be preserved to expand the cemetery. In addition, opponents insist it will exacerbate traffic problems while others say they are being squeezed enough and can’t afford to pay more taxes.

State Rep. and City Councilor Daniel Cahill said it’s time to build the new schools.

“School buildings were not made to last 100 years,” he said.

New era begins for Lynn police


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Lynn mayor offers tax cuts to seniors

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN Trying to head off opposition to a $188.5 million school construction project, City Hall is offering more tax relief for seniors.

Under a plan proposed by Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy to offset the cost of building two new middle schools, the city plans to boost the real estate tax exemption to seniors by $200 and reduce the eligibility age to 65, from 70.

“We believe adopting these options will provide the necessary relief to seniors who would be most affected by a tax increase,” Kennedy said in a statement. “I have spoken to many seniors who are supportive of the new schools’ proposal, but understandably concerned about the impact on their taxes. Hopefully, this will make them feel more comfortable about a ‘yes’ vote.”

On Tuesday, March 14, voters will be asked to approve a tax hike to pay for a 652-student school to be built near Breeds Pond Reservoir off Parkland Avenue and a second facility to serve 1,008 students on McManus Field on Commercial Street.

If approved, voters will be responsible for $91.4 million of the project cost. The Massachusetts School Building Authority, the quasi-independent state agency that funds school projects, said it will contribute $97.1 million.

School officials said $11 million in contingency funds are included in the overall cost. If those monies are not used, it would reduce the taxpayer portion by that amount, making the taxpayers’ bill about $80 million.

The city said the average homeowner will pay an additional $200 in taxes per year for 25 years.

If voters reject the tax hike, the increased tax exemption would be dropped.

Kennedy said she’s heard the concerns of seniors who are worried about a $200 tax increase if voters approve two new schools. The mayor asked the Board of Assessors to explore options for providing additional tax relief.

The tax exemption is available to income-eligible seniors. A couple can earn no more than $29,804 and have assets of less than $45,974, not including a home and car. A single senior can earn up to $23,792 with assets no more than $42,908.

Today, about 100 seniors receive the $500 deduction, according to Peter Caron, the city’s chief financial officer.

Caron said most seniors who receive the exemption have homes valued around or under the average single-family value of $273,600. As a result, he said, the $200 additional exemption would mitigate the tax increase required to pay for the city’s share of the school building project.

“We have made a concerted effort to answer questions and address concerns related to the new schools,” Kennedy said. “It is critical that we build these schools in order to have the space required for the 20 percent increase in enrollment we will see in the next two years.”

Gary Welch, a member of Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, a grassroots organization founded to fight the location of the Parkland Avenue school, declined comment. Donald Castle, a founding member of the group, could not be reached for comment.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Cook-off to help fund sergeant’s run

COURTESY PHOTO
Peabody Police Sgt. Jim Harkins poses with his three children, Natalie, James and Rachel.

By DAVID WILSON

PEABODY — Peabody Police Sgt. Jim Harkins is quick to acknowledge he’s not a natural runner.

But on April 17, the 37-year-old father of three will tackle the 26.2-mile Boston Marathon; it’s a leap for someone who has only participated in half-marathons.

Something special will keep him pushing one foot in front of the other, he said: He’s running for Massachusetts-based charity Cops for Kids with Cancer.

As an official charity partner of the marathon, Cops for Kids with Cancer opens the race to those who may not have a fast enough qualifying time.

All Harkins needs to do to run, is raise $10,000 for the charity. As of Thursday night, he’s at $1,920.

Harkins, who has been with the Peabody Police Department for about 10 years, said that officers notify Cops for Kids with Cancer of a family that has a child with cancer. After a verification process, the charity provides families with $5,000; they can do whatever they like with the money.

The charity aims “to remove some financial burden so all their energies can go to helping their child beat cancer and live a healthy life,”  says their website.

To help reach his fundraising goal, Harkins planned a chicken wing cook-off for Friday at the Holy Ghost Society, 20 Howley St. in Peabody. More than 15 restaurants from Beverly, Danvers, Lynn, Peabody and Salem will be participating, he said.

Harkins said the restaurants will cook their chicken on their premises, and bring it to the facility.  The cook-off begins at 6 p.m. and goes until all the wings are finished or “until everybody leaves,” he said.

Tickets are $25 at the door. Harkins said he has already sold 150, and hopes to sell an additional 100-200 Friday night.

Cook-off guests will turn in their tickets to receive a ballot. After tasting, they will vote on the  top-three chicken wings. The winning restaurant will receive a certificate and, later, a trophy, Harkins said.

There will be about 35 raffles that cook-off guests can enter. Among the prizes are gift cards, gift baskets, electronics, and even firearm education classes for four, Harkins said.

There will also be a silent auction featuring sports memorabilia.

So, why chicken wings, one might want to ask Harkins. The self-described “buffalo-wing nut” explains, simply, they are his favorite food.

In fact, Harkins quickly says he has driven to Philadelphia just to try some extraordinary wings.

Wait; you repeat that to him: Philadelphia, just for wings?

He pauses. “I cannot confirm or deny that report,” he says with a laugh.

Visit https://copsforkidswithcancer.org/runners/jim-harkins/ to learn more about Harkins, or to donate toward his total.


David Wilson can be reached at dwilson@itemlive.com.

Restaurant owner announces city council bid

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Taso Nikolakopoulos is the latest candidate for councilor-at-large.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN Taso Nikolakopoulos is the latest candidate to throw his hat in the ring for an at-large seat on the City Council.

“I see a lot of disconnect between the council, the mayor’s office and the community,” said the 47-year-old owner of John’s Roast Beef & Seafood. “We need more of a collaborative effort and I really think I can change things.”

Married with two children, Nikolakopoulos said he will focus his campaign on a handful of issues that promise to advance the city.

“The key is economic growth,” he said.

First, the city must invest in a planning department, he said.  While other communities like Salem and Somerville have robust planning divisions that guide development, he said Lynn is lacking.

“When you call the city of Salem and tell them you plan to invest $2 million, you get someone who will guide you through the process,” she said. “Within a few steps, you know where you stand.”

On how the cash-strapped city would pay for a new department, he said, “I think we can find $300,000 in a $300 million budget.”

The other thing needed to spur growth, he said, is streamlined permitting.

“It still takes as much as four times longer to get permits in  Lynn than competing municipalities,” he said.

Figueroa for stronger community connections

Nikolakopoulos would also update the city’s plans for the Lynnway and add manufacturing to the mix of allowed uses on the non-waterside section of the busy road.

“My idea is to create a unique overlay district for manufacturing to bring in revenue,” he said.

On schools, he favors the controversial ballot question scheduled for March 14 to support construction of two new middle schools at a cost of $188.5 million.

“I am voting yes,” he said.

If approved, a 652-student school would be built near on Parkland Avenue and a second facility to serve 1,008 students would be constructed on Commercial Street. While parents in the Pickering Middle School district support the project, there’s opposition from many Pine Hill residents who oppose the new school on Pine Grove Cemetery land near Breeds Pond Reservoir.

Nikolakopoulos said he also favors teaching trades at Lynn English and Classical high schools.

“Teaching trade skills at Lynn Vocational Technical Institute is not enough,” he said. “We need to offer it at the other high schools. Not every family can afford a four-year college.”

On how to pay for expanded services, he suggested returning  parking meters to the downtown as a way to generate revenue.

Nikolakopoulos emigrated to the U.S. from Kalamata, Greece in the 1970s with his parents at age 4 during a time of political unrest in the southeast European nation.

He was enrolled in a Greek bilingual program at Washington Elementary School, attended St. Mary’s High School and later graduated from the College of St. Joseph’s, a small Catholic school in Vermont, where he was soccer captain.

After graduation, he worked a few jobs at the State House, including as a research analyst for the Joint Committee on Transportation. All the while, he helped his family at the restaurant.

“I’ve been working more than 70 hours a week since I was 22,” he said. “I don’t have free weekends, unless I go away.”

Nikolakopoulos joins what is expected to be a crowded field that includes incumbents Brian LaPierre, Buzzy Barton, Hong Net and Daniel Cahill. It’s unclear whether Cahill, who was elected as a state representative last year, will seek reelection.

In addition, Jaime Figueroa, a 28-year-old Suffolk University student, hopes to be the city’s first Latino councilor and Brian Field, who works at Solimine Funeral Homes, said he is considering a run.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Mayor, super make case for new schools

PHOTO BY PAULA MULLER
Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham talks to a crowded room at Stadium Condominiums in Lynn.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy is taking no chances when it comes to passing a controversial ballot question to fund a pair of new middle schools.

On Wednesday night, the mayor and her City Hall team made the case for the $188.5 million project to more than three dozen seniors who packed the recreation room at the Stadium Condominiums.

“Right now, the library at Pickering consists of two rolling carts with books and there are no science labs,” Kennedy said. “When you contrast that with what we see at the new Thurgood Marshall Middle School, the kids are simply not getting the same educational experience.”

In a passionate plea, Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham said every child who attends a middle school should have the same opportunity as every other child.

“Our beautiful new Marshall has cooking, sewing, wood shop, a TV studio, three-dimensional art rooms, music rooms and they should be available to everyone in Lynn,” she said.

Latham said there is lots of misinformation about the project. The city looked at more than a dozen sites, she said.

“We’ve heard people suggest a site on Federal Street near the fire station,” she said. “But it’s contaminated land and that is not a possibility. Magnolia Avenue has flood plains and an MWRA water line. Some have told us to use the Union Hospital site; we don’t own it.”  

The building committee also considered renovating the existing Pickering and that would cost $44 million without any state reimbursement, Latham said.

If approved by voters on March 14, the Pickering Middle School on Conomo Avenue would be replaced with a school on Parkland Avenue near the Pine Grove Cemetery and Breeds Pond Reservoir that would house 652 students, while a larger school for 1,008 students would be built on McManus Field on Commercial Street.

Residents will be responsible for an estimated $91.4 million or 51.5 percent of the total $188.5 million project cost. The city said the average homeowner will pay an additional $200 in taxes per year for 25 years. The rest of the cost will be picked up by the  Massachusetts School Building Authority, a quasi-public agency that funds school construction.

But Donald Castle, a Stadium unit owner and founder of the Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, a grassroots organization that opposes the Parkland Avenue school site, urged the crowd to vote no.

“Your taxes will go up above and beyond the legal limit for 25 years,” he said. “The land should be preserved for a cemetery. We ask the city to protect our cemetery and protect our reservoir.”

James Lamanna, the city’s assistant city solicitor, said the school will use about a dozen acres of the 44-acre site. The rest, he said, will be preserved for cemetery expansion. In addition, he said, the project will fund a $1 million road and bridge that the Cemetery Commission could not afford. Without the school, the land could not be accessed for new graveyards.

City Council President Darren Cyr said he favors construction of the two schools.

“No matter where kids live in Lynn, they should have the same opportunities as kids get in Swampscott, Marblehead and Lynnfield,” he said. “Every one of us has a chance to change kids’ lives and by voting yes on March 14, you will give those kids a chance that they will not get otherwise.”

School Committee member Lorraine Gately said a yes vote is essential for the city’s children.

“If we don’t support this, our future is larger class sizes and double sessions,” she said.

Moving on time in Lynn


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Moving on time in Lynn

COURTESY PHOTO
An artist’s rendering of the proposed Pickering Middle School.

It must be getting hard for middle-school-construction opponents to stand their ground now that the city is poised to eliminate two major objections to building new middle schools.

The public vote on building new schools and paying for them through property-tax debt exclusion is 12 days away and a plan to build a school on Parkland Avenue still faces opposition.

The continued resistance is puzzling, especially considering public statements by City Council members who said they are reviewing the idea of moving a Parkland Avenue home instead of demolishing it through an eminent-domain taking.

The tentative plan to move the house 200 yards in the direction of Wyoma Square received a guardedly optimistic response on Tuesday from the homeowner who was happy to learn city officials don’t simply want to bulldoze her home in the name of progress.

Whether someone’s house gets torn down is a sideline concern for school-construction opponents who are fighting the school projects under the banner of “Protect Our Reservoir Preserve Pine Grove.”

Opposition is healthy in a democracy but only when sensible, well-explored alternatives are outlined and presented. City officials launched a torpedo into the side of the opposition’s proverbial ship last week when they outlined a plan providing land on which to build a school off of Parkland Avenue while providing needed land for Pine Grove Cemetery.

The city’s attorney said the proposal “should end all debate” on possible legal action by construction opponents. That is an optimistic assessment given the opposition’s perspective. That said, it is up to the Pine Grove commissioners to say if the proposal meets future land requirements for the cemetery.

It is important to note that construction opponents cannot stand up, point to a piece of land in Lynn, and say, “This is the perfect site for a new school where no one will be bothered.” That fantasy tract simply does not exist in a city as old and as congested as Lynn.

Council makes a house call for school

Where to put new schools is an important question. But the more important question is how many more new schools does the city need and when does it need to build them?

Several local elementary schools were built before the Titanic set sail and others were built in the 1920s.

New schools cannot a guarantee students will focus on their studies or excel on tests. Building new schools does not protect the city from maintenance costs like the millions of dollars spent to keep Classical High School from sinking into a former dump off O’Callaghan Way.

But the condition of schools is a factor in determining if a community can be justifiably proud of its schools and its future. Middle-school-construction supporters and opponents alike take pride in Lynn and, with that pride in mind, it is time to set aside the battle over building a school on Parkland Avenue and move on to determining future school-construction needs.

 

Council makes a house call for school

COURTESY PHOTO
An artist’s rendering of the proposed Pickering Middle School.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN There could be a happy ending after all for Janet Guanci and her ranch-style home on Parkland Avenue.

Facing the possibility of losing her 1,000-square-foot house to eminent domain for construction of a new middle school, the City Council is considering a plan to move the house 200 yards away.

Guanci, who bought the two-bedroom house in 2004 for $267,900, listened as the Public Property & Parks Committee unveiled the idea Tuesday night.

“We are trying to keep you in the same neighborhood because I know you like it there,” said Ward 2 Councilor William Trahant. “We’d like to keep you happy. All of us feel bad about the possibility of eminent domain and we are trying to work with you.”   

James Lamanna, the city’s assistant city solicitor, said this is one option in a complicated process for a new middle school proposed for the neighborhood near Pine Grove Cemetery.

“We are trying to be creative,” said Lamanna. “Rather than demolish your home at 97 Parkland Ave., we could relocate it down toward the salt shed. The city is trying to give you as many options as possible.”

Moving the house at a cost of about $60,000 would be far less costly for the city than paying Guanci the appraised value of nearly $300,000, officials said.

“It’s something to think about,” Guanci told the panel. “It’s not our first choice, but I’ll think about it.”

Pickering in middle of ballot debate

Councilor-at-Large Brian LaPierre said the council has not taken a vote to seize the property.

“We are exploring all options,” he said.

Following the meeting, Guanci told The Item this is the first time she’s heard of the option of moving her home farther down Parkland Avenue.

“This was a surprise,” she said. “I thought they were going to tell me they were considering a different route. It’s a good offer, but we need to take a look at it and give it more thought.” Guanci’s home would only be taken or moved by the city if voters agree to a controversial ballot question set for March 14. If approved, voters will be responsible for $91.4 million or 51.5 percent of the total $188.5 million project cost. The city said the average homeowner will pay an additional $200 in taxes per year for 25 years. The rest of the cost will be picked up by the  Massachusetts School Building Authority, a quasi-public agency that funds school construction.

The 652-student school would be built near Breeds Pond Reservoir on Parkland Avenue. A second 1,008 student-school would be constructed on McManus Field on Commercial Street. If voters reject the measure, the city could lose the state money.

Proponents say the city needs the two new schools to keep pace with school enrollment which has increased by 17 percent over the past five years.

But opponents say the land on Parkland Avenue belongs to Pine Grove Cemetery and should not be used for a school.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.