Cyr proposes theater at Armory building


Pictured is the interior of the shuttered Lynn Armory.


LYNN City Council President Darren Cyr is floating an idea to turn the shuttered Armory on South Common Street into a small performing arts theater.

But there’s just one problem. The Lynn Housing Authority & Neighborhood Development (LHAND), whose mission is to provide safe and affordable housing for the needy, has spent nearly a year developing a plan to turn the 124-year-old landmark into veterans’ housing.

Cyr confirmed he’s interested in finding the money to buy the 37,602-square-foot facility that was once used to store weapons. “It’s just a way of thinking outside the box,” he said. “We’re in the discussion stages right now and trying to figure out if it can work.”

The idea would be to convert the cavernous space into a 500-seat theater that would book acts that could not fill the 2,100-seat Lynn Memorial Auditorium.  Once known for classic rock concerts featuring headliners such as Kansas and Foreigner, the stage has also featured William Shatner, Gladys Knight, Smokey Robinson, and Melissa Etheridge.

James Marsh, community development director and general manager of Lynn Auditorium, said the reason to add a second theater would be to compete with places like the Larcom Performing Arts Theatre and Cabot Theatre in Beverly.

“Lynn used to have more than a dozen movie theaters and they’re gone,” he said. “So we are missing out on those smaller shows and losing them to the competition.”

But Marsh was quick to add that he is not in competition with LHAND.

“The housing authority is looking at it and they have first dibs,” he said. “If they don’t find a suitable use for it or they end up not bidding on it, then we would take a look to see about the viability of a 500-seat venue.”

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When contacted last week by The Item, Charles Gaeta, LHAND’s executive director, said he had not heard of Cyr’s plan. Since then, he has talked to the council president about the agency’s vision for vets housing.

In an interview Thursday, Cyr said the two different uses are not incompatible.

“If we could build a theater and housing for veterans that would be a win win,” he said.  

Under LHAND’s proposal, the nonprofit would transform the Romanesque-style building that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places into 20 micro-units that measure between 250 and 350 square feet. The nonprofit has hired an architect to devise a housing plan for the building and come up with a cost estimate for renovation.

The property is owned by the state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM), the agency that handles the state’s real estate. It has declared the armory as surplus property.

DCAMM did not return a call seeking information on the status of the sale.

The next step is an appraisal. DCAMM and LHAND will then negotiate a price. The property is assessed at $1.7 million by the city.

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


Item staff discusses ‘Am I a bigot?’ series

From left, Thor Jourgensen, Cheryl Charles and Carolina Trujillo discuss the series with James J. Carrigan.

The Item’s News Editor Thor Jourgensen, Night Editor Cheryl Charles, and Community Relations Director Carolina Trujillo sat down Monday with local attorney and “The American Dream” host James J. Carrigan to discuss the first week of the “Am I a bigot?” series.

Watch their appearance below.

Committee ponders meaning of ‘sanctuary’


LYNN — The School Committee continued a discussion regarding the concerns of immigrant students on Thursday.

Member Maria Carrasco initiated the conversation at the previous committee meeting, saying she has been approached by a number of students who are worried about U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) entering the schools.

In response, attorney and committee member Jared Nicholson drafted a resolution meant to clarify the law and reassure students.

Nicholson read aloud from the resolution, which stated the Lynn Public Schools’ commitment to providing a safe learning environment.

The resolution reiterated that city schools do not request immigration status information from students.

School attorney John C. Mihos said the resolution doesn’t constitute a policy change, just a restatement of the laws as they already exist.

Carrasco and committee member Donna Coppola both spoke in support of the concept of becoming a “sanctuary school district,” a distinction that Mihos said would only alter the title of the resolution and not its purpose.

“The word ‘sanctuary’ means protection for somebody who feels chased,” said Carrasco, who argued that the word alone does have some impact.

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Member Patricia Capano said there have been no incidents regarding students and immigration enforcement in city schools. She said the resolution is an attempt on the committee’s part to be proactive.

Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham said she spoke with Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett regarding the subject and was told there have been no deportations in the county.

Carrasco disputed that claim, but said she could not ethically provide the identities of the individuals impacted.

A vote to adopt the resolution was tabled in order to bring the topic to a full committee for further discussion.

Leah Dearborn can be reached at ldearborn@itemlive.com.

Schools out for the time being in Lynn

Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy is pictured at a discussion on schools.


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.

Learn about ‘Being Mortal’ in Peabody


PEABODY The Jeffrey and Susan Brudnick Center for Living is showing “Being Mortal,” a documentary about end-of-life decision making, from 3-5 p.m. Thursday at 240 Lynnfield St. in Peabody.

A discussion on setting end-of-life goals and preferences will follow the screening with industry experts, including a physician, social worker, nurse and spiritual counselor guiding the conversation.

The Brudnick Center is operated by Chelsea Jewish Lifecare. The senior care provider serves 800 people daily at facilities in Peabody and Chelsea.

“Being Mortal” delves into the hopes of patients and families facing terminal illness. The film investigates the practice of caring for the dying and explores the relationships between patients and their doctors.

It follows a surgeon, Dr. Atul Gawande, as he shares stories from the people and families he encounters. When Gawande’s own father gets cancer, his search for answers about how best to care for the dying becomes a personal quest.

The film sheds light on how a medical system focused on a cure often leaves out the sensitive conversations that need to happen so a patient’s true wishes can be known and honored at the end.

“Being Mortal” underscores the importance of people-planning ahead and talking with family members about end-of-life decisions. An estimated 70 percent of Americans say they would prefer to die at home, but most die in hospitals and institutions.

It is estimated 90 percent of Americans know they should have conversations about end-of-life care, yet only 30 percent have done so.

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Refreshments will be served and attendees will have the opportunity to speak with the panelists on a one-to-one basis.

In February 2015, “Being Mortal” aired nationally on the PBS program “Frontline.” The free screening is made possible by a grant from The John and Wauna Harman Foundation in partnership with the Hospice Foundation of America.

For more information about the film, visit http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/being-mortal. The film is adapted from Gawande’s 2014 nationally best-selling book of the same name.

For more information about the event or to make reservation, contact Jill Hurley at jhurley@chelseajewish.org or (617) 889- 0779.

Chelsea Jewish Lifecare employs more than 1,000 people and offers a full continuum of services. The Chelsea Jewish Foundation (www.chelseajewish.org) is redefining senior care and re-envisioning what life should be like for those living with disabling conditions.

The elder-care community includes a wide array of skilled and short-term rehab residences, traditional and specialized assisted living options, memory care, independent living, adult day health, geriatric care management, home care, personal care and hospice agencies that deliver customized and compassionate care.


Asking ‘If Only’ in Swampscott

An audience reacts to a January 2017 showing of “If Only” at the Marblehead Veterans Middle School Performing Arts Center.


SWAMPSCOTT — Swampscott Police Chief Ronald Madigan said the town is not immune to the opioid epidemic and addiction.

Building on the work of the Swampscott Overdose Response Team, the police department and town will be bringing more awareness to the issue on March 9, with the screening of the short film, “If Only,” which highlights the dangers of prescription drug and opioid misuse and abuse. The film will be shown at Swampscott High School at 7 p.m.

The film is presented by the Mark Wahlberg Foundation and was produced by Executive Director James Wahlberg. The screening will be followed by an interactive discussion about drug use and addiction, featuring a panel of local experts, a licensed physician, people in recovery from addiction, and family members who have lost a loved one to the disease. Discussion will include where to find a detox or inpatient facility, and where people can turn to for help afterwards. Questions will also be taken from the audience.

“We would like to start a conversation to help break the stigma associated with drug use and addiction,” Madigan said in a statement. “This is a Swampscott problem and it is happening here and we are not immune to it.”

In Swampscott, there were 17 overdoses in 2015 and 25 overdoses in 2016. There were eight fatal overdoses during that time frame. In 2017, there have been three overdoses, according to police.

The Overdose Response Team was formed by the police department in 2016. Members include Madigan, Detective Rose Cheever, Officer Brendan Reen, School Superintendent Pamela Angelakis, Health Director Jeff Vaughan, Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, Interim Town Administrator and Department of Public Works Director Gino Cresta, Fire Chief Kevin Breen, Deputy Fire Chief James Potts, and Mary Wheeler, of Healthy Streets Outreach Program, along with other officials and emergency personnel.

Following overdoses, Reen, Cheever and Wheeler go to residences to conduct “door knocks,” or follow-ups with the families afterward.

“It is not an easy phone call to make when a loved one needs help,” Madigan said in a statement. “We are trying to make that easier for people.”

Cheever said with the door knocks, sometimes people are more comfortable talking with Wheeler, rather than police officers. She said it’s hard for people to trust police because they may feel like officers are only there to charge them. She said the visits are about providing them with follow-up services.

“Once we go there, it does break the ice,” Cheever said. “We have been able to get people into treatment and stay off the drugs. Yes, there’s been some relapses and we’re back there again, but I think that’s part of the addiction.”

Cheever said the work of the response team and the point of showing the film, followed by a panel discussion, is to break to the stigma. She said people should know that they can reach out. She said people shouldn’t be embarrassed about addiction and it shouldn’t be a problem behind closed doors.

“We’re hoping that we’re able to get people to come out,” Cheever said of the event. “I know it’s a tough subject for some people and that’s why we’re trying to open the door for communication.”

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