Edward T. Calnan:
I write as a member of the building committee for the new Pickering Middle School to be located off Parkland Avenue and another middle school proposed at McManus Field in West Lynn.
I want to correct some misinformation that has been circulating by the opponents of the school at the Parkland Avenue site. The suggestion has been made that the school would have a negative environmental impact on the nearby reservoir which is part of Lynn’s great water supply system.
I have walked this site myself. The new school will be built on 12 acres of the 44 acres available. The building will be located more than 250 feet from the reservoir, much farther away than the minimum requirements.
It should be noted that some homes in an adjoining neighborhood have been built in the past, much closer to the reservoir. The topography is such that the area to be built upon slopes away from the reservoir and surface water will drain naturally to wetlands on the site, as it does now.
The new building will be tied into the city’s sewer and drainage system. This project is subject to numerous environmental reviews and will be constructed in full conformance with all local and state agencies responsible for the protection of wetlands and public water supplies. In sum, Lynners can be assured that there will be no negative impact on the reservoir as a result of this project.
The other issue is the question of ownership of the parcel. The city’s Law Department has researched the real estate records extensively and determined that the parcel is, indeed, owned by the city. This is a big bonus as it minimizes the acquisition costs, keeping the overall project costs lower.
As a former Director of Community Development for the city for many years, I have dealt with many development consultants in neighborhood, downtown and waterfront developments.
The consultant team we had when I served on the new Thurgood Marshall School Building Committee was as talented and impressive as any I’ve seen. And the results are manifested in a beautiful building that was completed ahead of schedule and under budget, providing a modern learning environment for the children in that district. We are fortunate to have members of that team working with us on the two new schools being proposed.
In viewing plans for new middle schools, our committee looked at 13 different sites in the city and, after much deliberation, chose the Parkland Avenue site and the McManus Field site as the best for the city. There are no sites that are even close in comparison after studying all the factors that come into play for site selection.
The state has told the city that it must plan for an additional 1,600 students in the next several years. The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) is willing to pay up to $100 million of the $188 million cost with the city’s share to be paid through a bond issue, subject to approval by the voters in the referendum on March 14th.
If the voters approve, there will be positive spin-offs as a result of the new schools. Real estate values will be improved. It is no secret that the first thing potential buyers ask realtors about is about is the quality of the school system. Impressive new teaching and learning facilities go a long way in putting a positive point on the fact that this is something Lynners care about.
Once a new Pickering Middle School is built with a 650-student capacity, it is very likely that Pine Hill would be put into the Pickering district, resulting in a shorter walk for students to a new and exciting facility. Also parts of the old Pickering School could be saved for a future expansion of the Sisson Elementary School and provide refurbished cafeteria, auditorium gymnasium and classroom space not available to them now.
The new West Lynn middle school housing 1,000 students would serve the surrounding neighborhoods so kids could walk to school and obviate the need for very expensive transportation to other schools in the city.
This new school would absorb more than 300 students from the presently overcrowded Breed Middle School, returning needed space for educational programming to that school.
The two new schools are tied together on the ballot on March 14th. An approval by the voters will avoid the need for double sessions at the middle school level in the near future. It will also take advantage of a $100 million investment by the state to give Lynn kids the same educational opportunities offered in more advantaged communities.
Make no mistake that if Lynn doesn’t take advantage of the state funding at this time it will be years, in my opinion, before we’ll have another opportunity like it. I urge Lynn voters to give a resounding approval on the two ballot questions on March 14th.
Do it for the kids and so we can look back after the projects are complete and know that we did the right thing for the city of Lynn.
Edward T. Calnan is a former Councillor-at-Large in Lynn.