Michael Donovan

Lynn budget under the knife

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — On the heels of a bruising school election where voters overwhelmingly rejected a tax increase, the city faces the prospect of layoffs to erase a budget deficit.

Mayor Judith Flanagan has instructed department heads to level fund their fiscal year 2018 budget which begins on July 1. In addition, the email to senior managers asked them to “be creative” in absorbing a 5 percent retroactive raise to city employees and another 2 percent increase set to take effect this summer.

The city is short by $8 million — the combination of a $4 million deficit in the fiscal year 2017 budget and an additional $4 million in raises for 2018. Some departments face as much as 8.5 percent in cuts while others will have a much lower threshold.

“In order to maintain the current level of operation, the city must address the $4 million deficit from last year and up to $4 million in new salaries due to contract settlements,” said Peter Caron, the city’s chief financial officer. “To do so, the city needs to either find new revenue or reduce spending.”

Despite the cash crunch, the mayor insists Lynn is not in the midst of a financial crisis.

“To level fund the budget, accommodate the recent raises and increases in fixed costs, such as pensions and healthcare, we asked everyone to submit an initial budget with an 8 percent spending cut,” she said. “But this is just an initial step, we start at the bottom and build the budget up from there. I can’t speculate on layoffs right now, but we have some pretty big fixed costs that must be met.”

Still, it appears contract settlements with police, fire and other city employees has exacerbated the cash-strapped city’s ability to maintain its nearly $300 million budget without cuts. Some department heads say layoffs and service cutbacks may be inevitable. The schools will not be affected by the cuts.

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The $3.7 million payroll at the Department of Public Works must be trimmed by nearly $262,000, the potential loss of about three workers from the 50-person unit.

“Trying to do the same amount of work with less money is always a challenge,” said Andrew Hall, commissioner.

Hall said one of his workers is collecting worker’s compensation as a result of an injury on the job. If that person does not return to work, the city would not fill the position.

“I’m trying to avoid any layoffs,” he said. “It’s possible we could absorb work done by one of our contractors, but it may not be enough to avoid layoffs.”

In the city’s Inspectional Services Department (ISD), they are  looking at a $400,000 cut from its $6.8 million personnel budget or as many as eight positions from the department which employs 30 workers.  

Michael Donovan, ISD’s director, said his agency has three vacant positions that will go unfilled, there is the possibility of employees retiring, and there’s potential savings of up to $50,000 if the city defers scheduled improvements to city buildings.

“Even with those savings, I am looking at four more positions to trim,” he said. “If inspectors or clerical staff are laid off, it will impact the operations. This is serious. Our budget is so lean right now to cut back on personnel will lead to lower services.”

Police Chief Michael Mageary said it is too soon to say how the latest cuts will affect his department. Last year, they downsized to six patrol cars with two officers in each, down from six, one-person patrol cars and four, two-person cars.

“We are already running lean,” he said. “We have two officers less per division on the street right now.”

Cuts in the Personnel Department could lead to trimming one position, according to Joseph Driscoll, director. His $251,000 budget consists of three salaries and less than $5,000 in expenses.

“I understand the financial crisis the city is in,” said Driscoll. “I will do what the mayor and the chief financial officer ask me to do, as painful as it may be.”  

Fire Chief James McDonald said he’s hoping not to lay off anyone, but can’t guarantee it. He is looking at cutting $1.3 million from the department’s $16.6 million payroll.

“It will have a bad effect on us,” he said. “We do not have a lot of money to roll into payroll. There’s a chance a firefighter could be laid off.”

While McDonald has 17 unfilled firefighter jobs, he has been using some of that money to pay for overtime.

If the city lacks sufficient firefighters on a shift, he said they  can put that company out of service in what’s called a “brownout.” That’s where engines are removed from service when available staffing is thin.

“It’s Russian roulette,” he said. “We take them out for a day or night and hope nothing happens. That’s what happened in Holyoke on New Year’s Day. They had a fatal fire, there was a brownout and three people died.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tigrillo@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.

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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.

Lynn Woods elementary tapped out

By LEAH DEARBORN

LYNN At Lynn Woods Elementary School, all drinking fountains have been temporarily shut off following an extensive series of voluntary copper and lead tests in city schools.

Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham said bottled water has been supplied to students at the school and letters were sent home to parents.

Michael Donovan, director of the Inspectional Services Department (ISD), said a plumber has been hired and the fixtures at Lynn Woods will hopefully be back up and running by the end of next week.

Donovan said that all possible drinking sources were tested at every school in the city, including water fountains, kitchen equipment and sinks — over 2,000 samples taken from 695 taps.

Of the fixtures, roughy 2 percent were found to be above acceptable lead or copper limits.

Across the board, 88 fixtures tested high for lead and 19 were beyond acceptable levels for copper. Donovan said compromised fixtures will be replaced or have their supply lines changed.

“Thank you for being proactive,” said School Committee member Patricia Capano told Donovan on Thursday.

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Although the drinking water levels are regularly monitored, the latest testing marked the first time all of the fixtures in the district were checked at once, said Donovan.  

Each fixture was sampled twice by a third party inspection service with the testing paid for by the state, said Donovan.  

On April 26, 2016, Gov. Charlie Baker and State Treasurer Deb Goldberg announced that $2 million from the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust would fund efforts to help public schools test for lead and copper in drinking water.

If copper levels are higher than 1,300 micrograms per liter, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends a school take action to determine the source, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.  

For lead, MassDEP lists the water action level at 15 parts per billion. Lead typically enters the water supply through lead pipes or plumbing that contains lead parts or solder.


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

Committee to study custodian calculations

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy has signed off on a plan to transfer management of the school’s maintenance staff to the school department from City Hall.

“Overall, this move accomplishes my intention of putting the custodians back to the school department where we will capture $1 million in healthcare costs toward net school spending,” said Kennedy.

The next step is approval of a home rule petition by lawmakers on Beacon Hill, typically a formality.

Kennedy’s signature caps a drama that unfolded last month, when the School Committee rejected the mayor’s request to move accountability of the school custodians from the Inspectional Services Department (ISD) to the schools by a 6-1 vote. Only the mayor, chairwoman of the committee, voted for it.

While the school committee can recommend to the Lynn delegation on Beacon Hill to reject the change, they are powerless to stop it on their own.

“The schools are never, ever affected the way the city side is,” said the mayor at a school committee meeting Thursday, calling it an accounting move to increase flexibility within the city budget and avoid layoffs.

“The city does not pocket any money whatsoever because the city pays all of the health insurance,” said Kennedy.

Other committee members expressed hesitation out of fear that the transfer will have unanticipated consequences on the school budget.

“We don’t have numbers,” said committee member Maria Carrasco.

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Member Patricia Capano asked attorney John C. Mihos whether the committee could stop or rewrite the petition if it was found to be unfavorable.

Mihos said the next avenue of action would be to request the state legislature not move it forward at the state level.

Capano successfully made a motion asking the committee to write to the state delegation, ensuring their awareness that the vote on the Home Rule Petition was lopsided.  

The movement of custodians, which was approved by the City Council last month, has been controversial. In 2006, then-Mayor Edward “Chip” Clancy shifted the janitors and maintenance staff from the school department to the city. The transfer came, he said at the time, because the schools were dirty and the janitors lacked supervision.

It was Michael Donovan, ISD’s director, who took the added responsibility of monitoring the workers.

When he inherited the 166-employee unit in 2007, it included 120 permanent custodians, 20 substitute contract workers who filled in for absentees and 26 maintenance technicians for 26 schools.

Changes were implemented, Donovan said, that required more accountability. They instituted attendance and timekeeping policies, employees punched time cards, vacation rules were tightened, staff was moved and lots of maintenance project work was outsourced.

Today, the streamlined department has 57 custodians, a dozen maintenance workers and the afternoon staff is outsourced with a budget of $14 million.

In a quirk in state law, while salaries for the janitors as city employees count toward school spending, their health insurance premiums do not. By moving them, the city can add health insurance and reduce the deficit.

Kennedy said she hopes the change will take place by July 1. But City Councilor and state Rep. Daniel Cahill, who supports the change, said it could be months until the Legislature acts.


Item staffer Leah Dearborn contributed to this story. Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

CFO accuses school committee of ‘fuzzy math’

By THOMAS GRILLO and BRIDGET TURCOTTE 

LYNN  — One day after the School Committee overwhelmingly rejected a move to transfer management of the school’s maintenance staff from Inspectional Services to the school department because of the costs, the city’s chief financial officer blasted the panel’s fuzzy math.

“There was a lot of bad information spewed by the School Committee Thursday night,” said Peter Caron. “If the schools take over custodial operations as they exist today, the only cost to them is $1 million in health insurance. All the other talk about it costing another million here and another million there is baloney.”

The controversy began last month when in an attempt to capture $1 million in additional school spending and avoid a state penalty, Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy engineered a plan to transfer supervision of school custodians from City Hall to the school department. Earlier this week, the city council voted unanimously for the change.

But in a 6-1 vote Thursday, the School Committee rejected the home rule petition that would make the transfer a reality. The panel asked the city’s Beacon Hill delegation to deep six the proposal when it reaches the State House. Only the mayor, chairman of the school committee, voted for the change.

“There are far too too many questions for us to support this change,” said Patricia Capano, a School Committee member. “We still don’t know what it will cost us, we want answers. Can we afford it without depleting our budget? It would be shortsighted.”

Showdown over Lynn school custodians

State Rep. Daniel Cahill (D-Lynn), who also serves as a City Councilor at-Large, supported the measure at the council meeting.

“I hopes the issues get resolved in a way that benefits everyone in the city,” he said.

State Rep. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn) said he will wait to see the home rule petition arrives on Beacon Hill before he makes a decision on how to vote.

Sen. Thomas M. McGee (D-Lynn), through a spokeswoman, did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Michael Donovan, ISD director, said half of his $14 million budget pays the salaries for 57 custodians, a dozen maintenance workers as well as for supplies and maintenance.

Caron insists that portion of ISD’s budget, or $7 million, would go to the schools, and it will not cost the School Committee a dime more to do the same job.

Still, Capano said she has no idea what it costs for the afternoon shift of custodians that are privatized. She wanted to know how much it would be for the schools to hire their own custodial staff.

“We want to make an intelligent comparison if it would benefit the citizens of Lynn to have 40 new employees, but can we afford it?” she said.

Donovan said the cost of the private company for the p.m. shift is $1.5 million. But it would increase to $2.8 million in salary and benefits if the schools hire their own workers.

But Caron insists such an added expenditure is unnecessary.

“If they choose to fire the private company and hire new custodians, that’s on them,” he said. “But if they continue to use the private afternoon service, I would take the cash out of ISD’s budget and put it into the school budget. The net result is zero extra costs for the schools.”

Technically, the School Committee has no say in the transfer. They can only make a recommendation.

The mayor has until Thursday to decide whether to sign the home rule petition request and send it along to the State House.

Kennedy could not immediately be reached for comment.

Despite the custodian transfer, the city is still dealing with other school spending issues. Caron reported a clerical error that resulted in a significant underfunding to the schools of about $1.6 million.  He anticipates a similar shortfall next year.

The health insurance portion of the net school formula was miscalculated using a head-count method, he said which only includes individual health insurance plans, not the added costs of covering families.

“I’ve recommended to the mayor that the city seriously consider moving away from a self-insured plan to a premium-based plan,” he said. “We would know what the cost would be for each employee every year. We would know exactly how much money we would expect for insurance costs for the coming year.”

Of the $8.9 million in debt the city is committed to repaying in a four year period, Caron said. About $900,000 has been repaid, leaving two years to repay $8 million, he added.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.comBridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com.

Showdown over Lynn school custodians

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE and THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN  — The school committee wants changes to be made to a Home Rule Petition that would transfer management of the school’s maintenance staff to the school department from the city’s Inspectional Services Department (ISD).

The move, engineered by Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, is designed to capture $1 million in additional school spending and avoid a state penalty. Under the revised rules, the city’s school custodians and maintenance staff are headed back to the school department. Earlier this week, the city council voted unanimously for the change.

The school committee, which did not have a vote in the transfer, was scheduled to hold a public comment session to hear from the employees and learn more about the change. But the meeting was canceled because of  last week’s snowstorm. Instead the discussion continued Thursday night, after the council vote. Kennedy said she would take all comments into consideration before signing off on council’s decision.

“I will take several days after this lands on my desk to decide if I’m going to sign it or not,” said Kennedy. “It has not been presented for a signature yet. By the city rules, I have 10 days once it is presented to me.”

Should Kennedy decide to veto the decision made by council, the panel would either make changes to the petition or drop it. But if she signs off, it moves on for approval from the legislature.

James Lamanna, the city’s attorney, said while the school committee can recommend to the city council that they rescind their vote from earlier this week to move custodian management to the school department from ISD, the council is under no obligation to reverse its vote. In addition, the school committee may ask Lynn’s Beacon Hill delegation to reject the home rule petition for the change, but they too are under no obligation to support it.

The controversy erupted in 2006, when former Mayor Edward “Chip” Clancy shifted the custodians and maintenance staff from the school department to the city. The transfer came, officials said, because the schools were dirty and the janitors lacked supervision.

When ISD inherited the 166-employee unit in 2007, it included 120 permanent custodians, 20 substitute contract workers who filled in for absentees and 26 maintenance technicians for 26 schools.

ISD Director Michael Donovan said as a result of the switch, the custodians were held accountable, attendance and timekeeping policies were implemented, employees punched time cards, vacation rules were tightened and the city outsourced lots of maintenance project work.

Today, the department has 57 custodians and a dozen maintenance workers with a budget of $14 million.

While there’s agreement that ISD’s management of the custodians has worked well, Peter Caron, the city’s chief financial officer, said shifting the employees to the school department will add about $1 million to the city’s required school spending.

In a quirk in state law, while salaries for the custodians as city employees counts toward school spending, their health insurance premiums do not. By moving them, the city can add health insurance and reduce the deficit.

Caron and the mayor say moving the custodians to the school department will allow them to include those health care costs in the budget.

Richard Germano, vice president of AFSCME Local 1736 representing the workers, has said they are happy to go back to work for the school department. But because the petition calls for two custodians who clean City Hall to be transferred to the schools in addition to a supervisor position that has yet to be filled, Germano is concerned that the supervisor position was designed with a specific candidate in mind.

“That section is very offensive, as a taxpayer of this city,” he said. “The chief of inspectional services, I guarantee, will get this job. I guarantee it was put in there for him.”

Caron did not present the committee with any indication of the costs the transfer would pose to the school department because he said the numbers were not requested. School Business Administrator Kevin McHugh argued he sent an email to Donovan on Feb. 6 that has not been returned.

“This doesn’t feel correct,” said committee member Patricia Capano. “I feel that there are statements behind these statements that we are not aware of.”

Board members also shared concerns that the hiring process was in violation of state laws because the document does not indicate that veterans will have preference. The process outlined also requires three people to sign off on hiring a potential employee, rather than leaving the responsibility to the superintendent.

“When this comes to you (Kennedy), I would like to see it be sent back to the council to have them correct these things,” said committee member Donna Coppola.

“I share concerns about the costs,” said member Jared Nicholson. “I would appreciate seeing a breakdown. We spent a lot of time talking about the net school spending and this is entirely motivated by school spending. It was initiated by city council but everything in it is being implemented by the school department.”

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Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

School committee freezes snow parking debate

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

LYNN — The School Committee voted to keep the city’s schoolyards open for emergency snow parking for the remainder of the year.

The panel will readdress the issue next year and make changes to its policy, depending on how the season goes.

The issue was raised earlier this month when parking during snow emergencies was limited to the city’s middle and high schools. In the past, parking has been allowed at some, but not all, elementary schools.

During Winter Storm Helena in early January, city councilors and members of the school committee heard from dozens of residents who were left without a place to park. A few councilors took a stand and opened the chains blocking off the lots.

During a school committee meeting following the storm, city attorney James Lamanna said in 2013 the school committee delegated its authority to determine which school lots are open and which are closed during a snow emergency to the city’s inspectional services director, Michael Donovan.

Donovan reminded committee members that vehicles were not removed from the lots the morning following many storms and, in 2015, the panel was displeased when schools could not open two days after a major snowfall.

“We felt that the need for the parking space overshadowed any potential problem,” said Committee Member John Ford. “Based on how it goes this year, we agreed to revisit it and see about next year. If it’s disastrous, we will have to come up with another plan or close the school yards again.”

Ford said city councilors are discussing a solution for next year that includes filing a parking application and using a car tag. Vehicle owners who violate the terms and leave their car in the lot after the designated parking hours will be ticketed, towed and have their parking privileges revoked.

The committee also voted on an updated job posting for a special education administrator  drafted by Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham.

Latham said she felt strongly that, though six candidates had been interviewed, they had not found the right fit for the job. Latham said none of the candidates had the district-wide experience in a large school system or strong curriculum background that she deemed necessary prerequisites.

The updated posting lists a salary starting at $111,000 with increments in accordance with the administrator’s contract, rather than listing a range of $115,000 to $128,000 based on education and experience.

A job description above the list of required qualifications was also removed from the listing.

Latham said she hopes to see the position filled by July 1.

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

Lynn council costs out middle school plan

By GAYLA CAWLEY

LYNN — Voters will be asked to fund two new schools during a special election on March 14.

The City Council unanimously approved putting a question on the ballot asking voters to approve the $188 million project, which would be for the construction of two schools to serve students in the Pickering Middle School district and West Lynn.

Voters will also see a question asking if the project should be allowed to be exempt from Proposition 2 1/2, which places limits on the amount a community can raise through property taxes.

Voters would be responsible for an estimated $75 million, or $200 annually for the next 25 years on their tax bills. The Massachusetts School Building Authority would reimburse about 60 percent of the funds, or $113 million of the project’s total cost.

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In a previous interview with The Item, City Attorney James Lamanna said under the city charter, the council was required to put the question on the ballot. Voter consent is required for any bond in excess of $4 million.

If voters approve the funding, a 652-student school would be built near Breeds Pond Reservoir off 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.

Officials in favor of the project, including Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy and Superintendent Dr. Catherine C. Latham, spoke about the need for new facilities to keep up with increasing enrollment.

Kennedy said there has been a 17 percent increase in the student population over the past five years. Latham added there are more than 16,000 students in Lynn Public Schools, making it the fifth largest district in the state.

Kennedy said she couldn’t emphasize enough the education inequity occurring at the middle school level, after the new Thurgood Marshall Middle School opened. She said it wasn’t right that students in the Pickering district have to go to a school of inferior quality, or that students in the Breed district are squeezed into a school that is overcrowded.

“The only way the city can bear the $200 million approximated price tag of these two schools is to do this as a debt exclusion,” Kennedy said. “I can’t emphasize enough how much we need to have these modern middle schools in the city of Lynn.”

Latham said if the schools aren’t approved, the district would be in dire need of more classroom space. There might need to be a return to half-day kindergarten, she added.

Donald Castle, president of Protect Our Reservoir, Preserve Pine Grove Cemetery, said the land on Parkland Avenue belongs to Pine Grove Cemetery. The city’s law department became aware of documents from 1893 in the fall suggesting that the land belongs to the cemetery.

“We’re not against the schools,” he said. “We’re against the site.”

Lamanna said it’s the opinion of the law department that the city owns the land, and would prevail in court if challenged.

Following the unanimous vote, city councilors weighed in on the potential schools. City Council President Darren Cyr said building two new schools to replace 100-year-old buildings was about providing students with the same opportunities kids in neighboring communities have.

“If we don’t build these new schools, we could have as many as 40 to 50 kids in a classroom,” Cyr said.

City Councilor Dan Cahill said Lynn can’t be a community of folks who don’t invest in their youth. “If we don’t make this investment, I’m really afraid of what’s going to happen in the city of Lynn,” he said.

In other news, a public hearing was set down for Feb. 14, regarding moving 57 custodians from city employment to the jurisdiction of the school department.

Michael Donovan, the city’s Inspectional Services Department director, said the move was to meet the net school spending requirement. When they worked for the city, he said, their health insurance didn’t work toward net school spending. If the move is passed, their benefits would be going toward that.

Donovan said the custodians are working for inspectional services now, which cleans school buildings. They would just have a different employer in the school department.

“The school will be paying for them if this proposal passes,” Donovan said.


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

 

Lynn storms the schoolyard gates

By ADAM SWIFT

LYNN — School and city officials will meet over the next week to address the parking issues in school lots during snow emergencies.

In the meantime, if there is a snow emergency before the next school committee meeting in two weeks, the city will allow parking at the same school lots that were open to residents last winter.

The issue came to a head over the past weekend, when parking during snow emergencies was limited to the city’s middle and high schools. In the past, snow emergency parking has been allowed at some, but not all, elementary school lots.

The move left city councilors and some school committee members fielding a number of angry calls from constituents.

“This hit me, with the parking restrictions, out of nowhere,” said Ward 7 Councilor John Walsh Jr. “The people I represent had no idea this was happening … the lots were closed, no direction of where they should go or what they should do.”

School Committee member Lorraine Gately said she was also upset when she found out that only five lots would be open during the snow emergency.

City council president Darren Cyr noted that Lynn is a densely packed small city, where parking is at a premium.

Councilors remove locks, open Lynn lots for snow parking

During Thursday night’s school committee meeting James Lammana, the city’s attorney, said the school committee has the authority to determine which school lots are open and which are closed during a snow emergency. However, Lammana said that in 2013, the committee delegated that authority to the city’s inspectional services director, Michael Donovan.

Donovan defended the decision to close the elementary lots during the snow emergency, citing the need to have the lots cleaned and ready to open for school.

“In 2015, I listened to the School Committee’s extreme displeasure when we were not able to open on the second day after a storm and we were closed when every other school system was open,” said Donovan.

Both Donovan and the city’s parking director, Robert Stillian, said there were safety issues associated with allowing cars to park in some of the school lots.

School committee member John Ford said he had been ready to make a motion to have all school parking lots open to cars, but after hearing from Donovan and Stillian, said he believed the city and schools could work on a compromise proposal.

“For the sake of the citizens in congested areas, we do have to open up some of the lots,” said Ford.

The committee approved a plan to have city and school officials work together to look at what lots should be opened and which should be closed and bring that proposed policy change to the next committee meeting on Jan. 26. Until then, the school lots that were opened during snow emergencies last winter will be opened if Mother Nature intervenes before that date.

Councilors cut through parking issues

PHOTO BY PAULA MULLER
Danny Balencuela shovels snow off the sidewalk and co-worker Jesus Tavarez runs a snow blower behind him on Liberty Street in Lynn during Winter Storm Helena.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — City councilors armed with bolt cutters removed chains from closed school parking lots during Winter Storm Helena to open them for parking on Saturday, sources told The Item.

Ward 7 Councilor Jay Walsh didn’t say if he was one of the snowstorm bandits. Instead, he offered: “You can just say we opened the lots. It was the right thing to do. We did it together collectively.”

The action underscored varying accounts highlighting the city’s preparedness in advance of what was the biggest snowstorm in nearly two years.

“What we did was, we made sure through a collaborative effort of everyone to get all the lots open Saturday morning so residents could use them for parking during the snow emergency,” said Darren Cyr, Ward 3 councilor.

Cyr also declined to name the councilors who may have cut the chains.

The city issued notice Saturday that parking was not allowed at the following schools: Aborn, Brickett, Callahan, Cobbet, Fallon, Hood, Lynn Woods, Sewell-Anderson and Washington. But a 1 p.m. an examination by Item reporters found the gates at several of those schools open with cars parked inside.

Schoolyard gates were installed last summer to prevent car owners from parking on the school lots during snow emergencies. In an earlier interview, Cyr said the council came up with alternative parking sites because residents often failed to leave the school property by school start time following a storm.

Cyr said a sense of urgency preceded the move to open lots Saturday morning as snow fell steadily.

“The School Committee, the mayor’s office and the council all talked Saturday morning and decided that we had to get those open as quickly as possible,” he said. “For the concern of the public’s safety, the council did what they had to do.”  

But Michael Donovan, the city’s Inspectional Services Department director, offered a different account of the Saturday lot openings.

He said parking was initially banned at all 18 of the city’s elementary schools. But early Saturday morning, he received a call from the city’s law department telling him that parking should be allowed at eight of the elementary school lots.

“By about 11:45 a.m. our people were opening the locks,” he said. “I did not receive a single report of a broken lock.”

Cyr said the school committee had previously voted to allow residents to park in the schoolyards during snow emergencies. He expects the committee to approve keeping the gates open when the panel meets on Thursday.

Patricia Capano, committee vice-chairwoman, said there was some miscommunication among school officials about closing and opening the gates before storms.

“The school committee certainly didn’t make any requests to limit the school parking lots,” she said. “If we need to take a vote to continue open parking lots, that’s what we’ll do. If an owner is there after 6 a.m., as has been in the past, then the responsibility is on the owner, be it towing and ticketing.”


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

Gayla Cawley contributed to this report.

Lynn board can’t zone in on housing conclusion

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — A pair of controversial proposals that would have essentially prohibited multifamily construction in much of the city were tabled by the Planning Board Tuesday night.

Following a public hearing where a landlord, a commercial real estate broker and residents sparred over the merits of a major zoning change to limit new home construction to one- or two-family dwellings, the panel declined to take a position and referred the matter to the city council.

If approved, the proposals by City Councilors Peter Capano and Jay Walsh would require developers to seek council approval to build multifamily units in portions of Ward 5 and all of Ward 6 and 7. A second, stricter proposal would require Zoning Board of Appeals approval for multifamily construction in the city.

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John and Marilyn Marsello, residents of Fairmount Avenue, said a Saugus-based developer has approvals for two apartment buildings on their street that would contain 100 units. The new apartments would add more cars to an already congested area of the city with narrow streets.

“We never had any say on the construction of these units,” said John Marsello. “It’s not a bad thing for developers to come before the city and the neighborhood for approval before they tear down homes and build apartment buildings.”

Marilyn Marsello said these new properties will change the lives of families in what had been a neighborhood of single-family homes.

“It’s horrible,” she said.

But Christopher Bibby, president of Bibby Real Estate Corp., opposed the measure, noting it would hurt real estate values and chill construction of apartments at a time when demand is up.

Gordon Hall, president of The Hall Co., and chairman of the Lynn Business Partnership who also serves as a director of The Daily Item, said while he sympathized with the Marsellos, such sweeping zoning should be rejected.

“This is not the way to address zoning,” he said. “It’s like taking a machete to it.”

Hall recommended the city hire a planning director and city officials, the business community, and the neighborhoods work together for a better solution.

Michael Donovan, the city’s Inspectional Services Department chief, said he opposed both measures, noting that it would not only end construction of multifamily dwellings but make it difficult for owners of two- and three-family homes to make improvements.

Resident and activist Elisabeth L. Daley said the city should  consider the need for more housing and a way to keep neighborhoods from being overrun with high-rise properties.

“We need to find a balance,” she said.

The city council also tabled the plan and Capano noted discussions are underway to amend the proposals.

In other news, the council took no action on a plan supported by the city’s unions to amend the residency requirement. Under the proposal, employees who live in the city for 10 years would then be free to live anywhere.

Peter Caron, the city’s chief financial officer, said the city’s bond rating has been downgraded to A-3 with a negative outlook from A-1 by Moody’s Investors Service as a result of the city’s financial woes.

“Since our reserves are being depleted, Moody’s doesn’t expect us to produce a balanced operating budget,” he said.


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

Councilors look down on Lynn zoning

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Construction of apartment buildings in West Lynn, such as 130-unit St. Stephen’s Tower apartments on Pleasant Street, would require city council approval under a proposed zoning change.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN If two city councilors get their way, construction of  apartment buildings in West Lynn will be a lot more difficult.

“We are trying to maintain the integrity of our neighborhood,” said Jay Walsh, Ward 7 city councilor. “We want some say in what gets built in a district that consists of mostly one- and two-family homes.”

On Tuesday, Nov. 29, the Planning Board will hold a public hearing to consider a controversial zoning change that would limit new home construction to one- or two-family dwellings. If approved, developers would be required to seek approval from the City Council for anything larger.

But the proposal is expected to face opposition from developers who say the plan would halt multi-family home building in West Lynn at a time when demand is strong and the city’s revitalization is underway.

“This idea would be bad for Lynn,” said Michael Procopio, co-owner of Procopio Enterprises Inc. “The city is in the midst of a renaissance, and part of that is due to good development. Changing the zoning would put a stop to that. It seems to be a little reactionary and a not-in-my-back-yard kind of thing.”

The Saugus-based company recently opened Needhams Landing, a 42-unit luxury waterfront apartment complex near the General Electric Co. River Works. They have approvals for two apartment buildings on Fairmont Avenue that would contain 100 units.

Walsh said the zoning, which dates back to the 1920s, when homes were needed to house GE workers, must be updated.  

“Given the real estate explosion in Lynn, developers are gobbling up parcels everywhere and building apartment buildings that don’t fit the neighborhood,” he said. “We just want to have a say in any new construction and these new buildings should certainly not be built as of right without input from neighbors.”

Peter Capano, Ward 6 city councilor, said the impetus for the zoning change stems from several big apartment projects in the neighborhood that have exacerbated congestion in a section of the city that has narrow streets where cars park on both sides.

“They are building 20- 30- and 40-unit apartment buildings by right and with it comes lots of traffic,” he said. “All we are saying is have zoning that would require developers to seek council approval.”

Capano insists the new zoning would not prohibit apartment buildings. Instead, he said developers would be asked to hold public meetings with the neighbors about their plans and perhaps be asked to complete traffic and other impact studies.

For example, Capano said conversations are underway to turn the shuttered St. Michael’s Church on Summer Street into apartments.

“They’re talking about as many as 40 units at the church,” he said. “We are not trying to stop all these projects necessarily, but neighbors should be able to ask questions about impacts.” Michael Donovan, the city’s Inspectional Services Department chief, said though he doesn’t have a vote on changing the zoning rules, he has questions for the two councilors who are proposing the amendments.

“If we’re going to limit multi-family construction in Wards 6 and 7, why just those wards?” he asked. “What about the rest of the city?”

Gordon Hall, president of The Hall Co., a Lynn real estate firm, and chairman of the Lynn Business Partnership, an association whose mission is to improve Lynn’s economy and quality of life, said his group was unaware of the proposal.

“We don’t know anything about it, but would like to learn more,” he said.

Nicholas Meninno, owner of Meninno Construction, whose Lynn firm typically lays the groundwork for commercial projects, said the city is smart to examine the zoning in West Lynn.

“It needs some revision and it’s reasonable for the city’s policy makers to review an apartment proposal and not just allow it by a matter of right,” he said. “I just hope they don’t go from a very unrestricted apartment zoning to something that’s overly restrictive. That would be a mistake in the other direction.”


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

Middle school offers a lesson in NIMBY

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Residents of 103 Parkland Ave. in Lynn are against building a new middle school in their back yard.

By GAYLA CAWLEY

LYNN — Residents will get a chance to sound off on the potential new middle school that would be built near Breeds Pond Reservoir off Parkland Avenue. A public forum will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in the Pickering Middle School Auditorium..

The third public forum on the construction of two new middle schools will be hosted by the city, Lynn Public Schools and the Pickering Middle School Building Committee.

The forum will focus on the Breeds Pond Reservoir site, which Project Manager Lynn Stapleton said has provoked the most opposition from residents in prior sessions.

In October, the city’s School Building Committee approved the construction of two schools that would serve students in the Pickering Middle School district and West Lynn.

Under the $183 million proposal, a 652-student school would be built near Breeds Pond Reservoir off Parkland Avenue and a second facility to serve 1,008 students would be built on McManus Field on Commercial Street.

The fourth public forum, which will focus on the McManus Field site, will be held before Thanksgiving, Stapleton said.

Plans have been submitted to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), the quasi-independent government that funds public schools. If approved, the agency would contribute $114.5 million towards the two schools, or 62.5 percent of the cost.

If approved by the MSBA and taxpayers, it would add $163 annually to the real estate tax bill for 25 years.

Stapleton said Wednesday’s forum will be about informing residents that the city is proceeding with the Reservoir and McManus sites.

“There is a great need for two schools because of the population and at this point, the city is willing to pay a significant share of the cost of two schools,” she said. “If we pass on this opportunity, the city is never going to be able to afford to pay for these two schools on their own. We’re really looking to find a compromise so we can take the benefit of the state paying the majority share of this, while attempting to minimize the impact on the city.”

Stapleton said studies are underway to look at the traffic on Parkland Avenue and Wyoma Square. Part of the studies will look at how to choose the correct school entrances and exits that will have the least effect on traffic.

Michael Donovan, the city’s Inspectional Services Department chief, who is also a member of the school building committee, acknowledged that there will be more traffic at the new school site.

“No matter where the school goes, there will be traffic impacts in the morning and the afternoon because we will be bringing 650 students in and out daily,” he said.

But he said the Parkland Avenue location near Breeds Pond Reservoir will have less impact than another proposed site on Magnolia Avenue because it’s near the Sisson Elementary School and the existing Pickering Middle School, which will likely be reused as an elementary school.

“Parkland Avenue is better suited to handle traffic than Magnolia Avenue,” Donovan said. “This small school won’t even be seen from Parkland Avenue or Lynnfield Street.”

A drawback to the Magnolia site is that there is a Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) pipe located on the property that provides water to Swampscott and Marblehead. The pipe would have to be relocated, which city officials estimated would cost up to $800,000.

Another potential issue with the Parkland Avenue site comes from documents from 1893 the city’s law department recently became aware of suggesting the land belongs to Pine Grove Cemetery.

Brian Field, Lynn resident and funeral director at Solimine Funeral Homes, said he thought the proposed land for the Reservoir site would become an extension of Pine Grove Cemetery in the future. In the next 10 to 15 years, he said, Pine Grove is going to become full, leaving people to travel up to 15 miles away to bury their loved ones at a greater expense.

Field said in the city, there is still a large religious community that prefers a traditional burial.  

“The city obviously needs schools,” he said. “The issue I have with Parkland Avenue is the intended use was to be for a cemetery. It’s almost like they want the courts to decide.”


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

Thomas Grillo contributed to this report.

Making history on Andrew Street

Robert Matthias, curator of the Grand Army of the Republic Building in Lynn, stands in front of uniforms from the American Revolution and War of 1812. He is trying to get the museum registered in its own historic district. Item photo by Owen O’Rourke

By Thomas Grillo

LYNN The Grand Army of the Republic building, the Andrew Street landmark that is already on the National Register of Historic Places, could get another honor.

The Lynn Historical Commission and Robert Matthias, the museum’s curator, won support from the City Council’s Public Property & Parks Committee Tuesday to seek designation of the four-story brick building as a local historic district. Now, the measure moves on to the Massachusetts Historical Commission for approval.

“Our goal is raise money for restoration and we believe being in a historic district improves our chances,” said Matthias prior to the meeting.

The museum, owned by the city, needs to raise $200,000 to save the facade and replace the windows.

Michael Donovan, the city’s Inspectional Services Department director, said the museum is not handicapped accessible and any major restoration funded, in part, by the state would have to include such upgrades.

“The building right now is in very bad shape, the facade is falling off the front,” he said. “If this is going to get done, people need to keep in mind the extent of the damage.”

To add an elevator and handicapped accessible bathrooms could cost more than $1 million, presenting a challenge to the city that would have to match any grant funding.

The museum was built in 1885 by Grand Army members as a memorial to the Union Army veterans of the Civil War at a cost of $35,000. It was one of many such halls built in the country and one of the largest posts of its kind. It boasts a 2,600-square-foot main hall on the third floor, which retains the original furnishings. The walls are filled with photographs of local Civil War veterans.

The museum’s library contains a note from Abraham Lincoln to the Secretary of State William Henry Seward, an original Confederate flag that flew over Richmond, Va., a portion of a tree that contains an embedded cannonball from the Civil War and 1,246 photographs of Civil War vets.  

“It’s a living history,” said Matthias. “Where else can you touch a cannonball from the Civil War?”

James Marsh, the city’s Community Development director, said the city has already spent about $300,000 in grants and department funds to replace a leaky roof and repair water damaged sections of the 21,000-square-foot building.

“Our goal is to open up the Grand Army Museum more to the public,” he said. “It was run down and we put money into it to bring it back to life. We want to bring it to its full potential, to attract more people to the downtown.”

Wendy Joseph, a member of the Lynn Historical Commission, said the most immediate goal is to stabilize the building.  

Brian McNiff, a spokesman for Secretary of State William Galvin who oversees the Massachusetts Historical Commission, said the state offers about $500,000 annually to preserve historic properties with competitive grant awards of up to $90,000.


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

Register getting good deeds done in Lynn

City Councilor Jay Walsh stands in his West Lynn neighborhood where foreclosed homes have become not only an eyesore but a place for squatters and drug dealers. Item photo by Owen O’Rourke.

By Thomas Grillo

LYNN — Jay Walsh took action after an abandoned home on Fuller Street turned into a drug den and a haven for squatters.

“Once the family who owned a house moves out and squatters move in, that’s when problems begin,” said the Ward 7 city councilor. “When you have one foreclosed house on the street that goes wrong, it has a domino effect, and no one should have to live next to it.”

As a result of that home and others in West Lynn, Walsh tried to contact the lenders who own these foreclosed properties to get them cleaned up and secured. But information on the Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds website did not always have information about the lender who owns the home.

“When you search these properties online, often there is no record of the latest lender who owns the mortgage and the home,” he said. “Without accountability, these homes can become problematic and many of the abandoned homes end up being broken into by people who use and sell drugs.”

The problem has the potential of growing as Lynn has been hit with a wave of foreclosures. Lenders filed 161 petitions to foreclose, the first step in the process, from January through August, compared with 130 for the same period last year, a nearly 24 percent hike, according to The Warren Group, the Boston real estate tracker.

During the first eight months of this year, 59 homes were seized by lenders, up from 47 last year, a 25.5 percent increase. The number of homes taken back by banks were higher in just six cities including Boston, Brockton, Lowell, New Bedford, Springfield and Worcester.

To make lenders accountable for maintaining the properties they’ve seized, Walsh recruited Register of Deeds John O’Brien to assist the homeowners, elected officials and neighbors in finding out which bank holds the mortgage on abandoned homes.
“Once we know the owner and lender, then we can hold them accountable and say ‘Please fix this,’” Walsh said.

This week, O’Brien launched the Abandoned Property Watch online service on the registry’s website designed to assist in searching records to locate the name and address of the mortgage holder in question.

“It’s these big mortgage companies who don’t even know where Lynn is and they have no regard for the properties they have foreclosed upon or plan to,” O’Brien said. “Residents should not have to worry about abandoned buildings and the blight they cause which decreases the value of their homes.”

With the free information provided by the Registry of Deeds, city officials and residents can contact the lender or make a complaint to the city’s Inspectional Services Department (ISD).

Michael Donovan, ISD’s chief, said his office has been chasing the owners of foreclosed properties since 2009.

When they receive a complaint, inspectors check it out, make the place safe, clean and secure and bill the bank.

In addition, under the city’s foreclosure ordinance, lenders are required to register the address of the foreclosured property with ISD and pay a $300 registration fee that goes towards cleaning up these properties. More than 200 homes have been registered, he added.

To find out who owns a foreclosed home in your neighborhood, go to salemdeeds.com, click on Abandoned Property Watch and follow the instructions or call 978-542-1704. Registry of Deeds staff will email the info or provide it over the phone.


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

School plan makes grade with neighbors

Rudolpho DeLeon, an employee at Corte Estilo on Commercial Street, stands at McManus Field, the possible location of a new middle school in Lynn. (Photo by Paula Muller)

By Thor Jourgensen

LYNN — They raised some concerns about increased traffic, but people living and working in the neighborhood bordering McManus Field where the city wants to build a middle school say they are generally happy with the plan.

“I like the idea. Kids learn more in a modern school. It’s partly about the technology,” said resident Celeste Cordero.

Cordero has lived for 19 years in one of the Neptune Towers high-rise apartment buildings overlooking the field. Wedged between the commuter rail tracks, Commercial Street and Lynn Vocational Technical Institute, the field is the proposed home for a 1,008-student middle school.

Cordero has seven grandchildren, including two middle schoolers. She said many middle school-age children live in Neptune Towers.

Commercial Street barber Rudolpho DeLeon only sees positives with the city plan to build on McManus Field.

“It’s good for local education and it will bring customers,” he said.

McManus Field is one of two sites approved by the city’s School Building Committee to be future middle school locations. The committee last Friday picked McManus Field and a site for a proposed 652-student school near Breeds Pond off Parkland Avenue.

City Inspectional Services Director Michael Donovan said city officials will meet on Thursday with Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) officials to review the site choices.

Tentative plans call for building a middle school on the field’s Commercial Street side with an entrance way off Commercial. Donovan said the front of the building would face the commuter rail tracks.

“This is very preliminary,” he said.

The site plan shares similarities with the location of the new Marshall Middle School. Opened in April, Marshall was built on a vacant industrial site on Brookline Street bordering the tracks.

Donovan said McManus Field’s size is not the only reason it is a good school site. He said information gathered by the school department indicates many of the city’s middle school-age children live in West Lynn neighborhoods, including ones south of Lynn Common, near the field.

“It’s a good site. It’s where the kids are,” he said.

Ernesto Perez agrees with that assessment but wonders where young athletes will play and practice if McManus Field becomes a school site. His automotive repair business has been on Commercial Street for almost 10 years and he is also worried about a school adding traffic to Commercial.

Donovan said preliminary school construction plans will preserve field space located on the field’s Tech side.

Marvin Pojoy lives off South Common Street and likes the idea of a middle school coming to his neighborhood.

“It’s good. My children would be close to the school,” he said.

A new school will also boost Commercial Market’s business, said Silvia Urrea. She works in the little store down Commercial Street from the field.

“The street will be busier and we will have more customers,” she said.

Talliah Brown grew up in the Marian Gardens housing complex and offered another reason why building a middle school on McManus Field makes sense.

“It will mean a lot of jobs for the community,” she said.

The $183 million two-school proposal, if approved, would see the MSBA contribute $114.5 million towards the two schools or 62.5 percent of the cost with the city paying for the remainder.


Thor Jourgensen can be reached at tjourgensen@itemlive.com.

Mayor stands ground on school sites

Pickering Middle School (Item file photo)

By Thomas Grillo

LYNN — The city’s School Building Committee overwhelmingly approved construction of two schools that would serve students in the Pickering Middle School district and West Lynn.

Under the $183 million proposal, a 652-student school would be built near Breeds Pond Reservoir off Parkland Avenue and a second facility to serve 1,008 students would be built on McManus Field on Commercial Street.

The Friday morning vote reaffirmed the decision made by the committee in August. It came in the wake of questions raised about the Parkland Avenue site earlier this week. City attorney James Lamanna said the law department became aware of documents from 1893 last week suggesting the land belongs to Pine Grove Cemetery.

Ward 5 City Councilor Dianna Chakoutis, whose district includes the proposed site, was the sole vote against the project Friday. Prior to the roll call, she spoke against the plan while Pine Hill residents looked on.

Resident Brian Field said the land that the city plans to use for the school on Parkland Avenue was intended to be a cemetery.  

But Michael Donovan, the city’s Inspectional Services Department chief who is also a member of the building committee, told the panel the plan is the best option for the city.

“No matter where you put a public facility, no one wants it,” he said. “What is best for the city may not be the best for one section of the city.”

Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy acknowledged that the committee is faced with a series of bad options. She said a proposal to build the school on Magnolia Avenue near Pickering  has its own set of problems.

While officials have said it would cost taxpayers $800,000 to move the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority pipe on the property to make way for the school, the mayor said it would probably cost much more.

“I suspect that the pipe is not in good condition, it’s been down there a long time and soil conditions are not optimal for its preservation,” she said. “I’m afraid when we begin our obligation to reroute the water to Swampscott and Marblehead, we will find it to be far more expensive and time-consuming than we’re thinking of right now.”

In addition, she said a new school in that section of the city would exacerbate traffic problems in an already congested area. She also noted that the Gallagher Park option won’t work because it would be a tight fit in a heavily populated neighborhood.  

Next week, the building committee will make its case to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), the quasi-independent government that funds public schools. If approved, the agency would contribute $114.5 million towards the two schools or 62.5 percent of the cost.

If approved by the MSBA and taxpayers, it would add $163 annually to the real estate tax bill for 25 years.  


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

Desmarais healthy choice for Lynn

Michele Desmarais is the new public health director in Lynn. Item Photo by Owen O’Rourke

By Thomas Grillo

LYNN — The drama over the appointment of Michele Desmarais as the new deputy election commissioner has taken a turn with her being named the city’s new public health director.

Desmarais, who serves as the city’s Inspectional Services Department (ISD) coordinator, will earn $91,104 a year in the post that became vacant when longtime director MaryAnn O’Connor left to become Medford’s new health director. The City Council is expected to confirm her nomination Tuesday night.

“Health care is my first love,” said Desmarais, 56, who previously held the post of administrator at the city-operated Joseph B. Devlin Nursing Home in the 1990s before it was closed by former Mayor Edward J. “Chip” Clancy Jr. “My work experience has been all health care related and my degrees are in health management.”

As health director, Desmarais said she will focus on the opioid crisis. The number of overdose deaths nearly doubled in Lynn to 43 last year compared to 2012 when there were 22 fatalities. Only Boston, Brockton, Lowell, New Bedford and Worcester had more opioid related deaths last year.

“It’s a challenging time to administer health services,” she said. “We need to get a handle on the opioid crisis in terms of where it’s coming from.”

Desmarais said she was invited to apply for the position by Michael Donovan, the ISD chief who oversees the health department. Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy approved the move in a letter to the City Council on Friday.

When she takes the position next month, Desmarais plans to get reacquainted with health issues, examine how the 10-person staff is operated and check the status of grants to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The department operates health clinics which provides flu shots and  vaccinations to the children of new residents.

The mayor and City Council battled during the summer over hiring a city deputy election commissioner. Kennedy said the job is unnecessary and the clerk’ office has sufficient funding.

Councilors appointed Desmarais to the post, but her health director appointment raises questions about the next chapter in the saga.

“I am very fortunate that the mayor has given me a wonderful opportunity,” Desmarais said. “She has been very kind to me.”

The Lynn native is a business graduate from Emmanuel College and holds a master’s degree in the management of health care from Lesley University. There were six other candidates for the job and three were interviewed by Donovan.

“Michele was chosen because of her previous experience working as a department head in the city, her background in health and being a member of the Board of Health for 15 years,” Donovan said. “She had the best management experience of all the candidates and she will do a very good job.


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

Security main concern for old Marshall School

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
The old Marshal Middle School.

BY BRIDGET TURCOTTE AND ADAM SWIFT

LYNN — While the shuttered Marshall Middle School is slated for demolition, some school committee members say the building is a target for thieves and vandals.

At its Thursday night meeting, the board requested a report on the status of the Porter Street building from Michael Donovan, the city’s director of Inspectional Services.

The request came after committee member Donna Coppola said the school has been broken into, heavily damaged and pipes removed.

“The biggest concern is that it’s still our property,” she said. “If people are going in there, what happens next? It’s our building, we should know if it is secured.”

Police Lt. Rick Donnelly said police investigated a breaking and entering at the school earlier this month.

But Superintendent Catherine Latham disputed her claim. She said while there have been some break-ins and copper piping taken from the school, the building is secure.

“The security system still works,” Latham said. After entering the building with other school personnel recently, they were greeted by police within five minutes.

Latham said the school department is removing materials such as flags and clocks out of the building as needed. She said desks will be moved to other schools and the district’s principals and teachers have been invited to take anything they need.

The city has no planned use for the building. The state has given Lynn $3.5 million to demolish the facility.


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com and Adam Swift at aswift@itemlive.com.

Council drives food trucks in Lynn

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Lynn City Hall.

BY BRIDGET TURCOTTE

LYNN — There could be a lot more dining choices in Lynn starting this summer.

The City Council has approved an ordinance that would allow licensed food trucks to operate in the city. The change, which required a change in the zoning laws, was also supported by the Planning Board.

Clint Muche, city deputy building commissioner, said he drafted a proposal for a zoning amendment at the council’s request, after councilors learned that Inspectional Services had received several calls from people interested in operating trucks in the city.

The panel voted unanimously to support the food truck ordinance.

Aaron Reames, founder of Bent Water Brewing Co., which serves alcohol but not food, said he is a big  advocate for bringing food trucks to Lynn. He said the trucks could help bars and restaurants because they are limited by state regulations.

“We would also develop more foot traffic in the area,” Reames added.

Michael Donovan, chief of Inspectional Services, recommended the board support the zoning change to allow the so-called mobile restaurants to operate on private property, to start. Business owners would be granted a one-year license by the council to serve as a vendor in a specified location, he said.

Muche said the trucks would also be subjected to inspections by the city and would be required to follow health department regulations. Their licenses would be reviewed at 30, 60 and 90 days.

City Council President Daniel Cahill said having a mix of traditional restaurants and food trucks will appeal to people of all ages.

In addition to paving the way for food trucks to operate locally, the eight councilors present also considered mayoral vetoes.

Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy recently vetoed a council decision to reorganize City Clerk Mary Audley’s office by separating the election responsibilities from the city clerk’s duties.

Kennedy also vetoed the decision to make changes to the charter that Cahill said would make it easier for more people to become involved in local politics. But Cahill said refusing to sign the petition served the same purpose as a veto.

The council also voted to remove an amendment to an ordinance for a medical marijuana dispensary district that gave councilors the authority to decide where city money generated from a clinic would be spent.

Earlier this month, the council determined a medical marijuana dispensary district would include the non-waterfront side of the Lynnway spanning from Market Street to the General Edwards Bridge, two sites on Commercial Street and all properties on Route 107 between Belden Bly Bridge to the intersection of Western and Murphy Avenues.

Kennedy said while she supported limiting the clinics to specific parts of the city, she opposed an amendment that gives the council the authority to decide how money from a facility would be spent.

She said the amendment conflicts with the city charter, which gives the mayor authority to determine how the city’s finances are directed.

The council agreed and voted to remove the provision it felt was unenforceable and at odds with the city charter, said Cahill.

Councilor Peter Capano argued that none of the councilors or Audley had been contacted by Kennedy, and that nothing should be done prematurely.

“If it was vetoed, we could always decide then and there whether we wanted to override the veto,” he said. “At this point, we’ve had a long and lengthy discussion and that was the result. I think it would be only fair to wait and see rather than change it before we have an answer at all.”

But Councilor Darren Cyr disagreed.

“In all honesty, we don’t have any authority,” he said. “There’s no reason to have that in there. The mayor sees that as a reason to veto it and If the mayor vetoes it, it would give her the right to choose and pick where to put a dispensary.”


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

 

Lynn school math: 1+1=1

PHOTO BY PAULA MULLER
Shown is a site plan for the proposed Breed’s Pond Reservoir location of a new Pickering Middle School.

By THOR JOURGENSEN

LYNN — Two schools sharing a gymnasium and cafeteria and built off Parkland Avenue may be the best way for the city to corral a rising middle school enrollment tide.

Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy said the two-schools-in-one concept could be included in a submission to the Massachusetts School Building Authority next week. The proposal will outline plans and cost estimates for new middle schools capable of handling an anticipated 1,660-student increase in middle school-age students.

The city opened a new Marshall Middle School in April but aging Pickering Middle School needs to be replaced with a modern building or buildings large enough to handle increasing middle school enrollment.

Earlier this year, the mayor said she favored two new schools over one large school.

“We don’t want middle school students in such a large environment when they need individual instruction at that age,” Kennedy said this week.

The mayor and Michael Donovan, the city’s Inspectional Services director, said cost analysis say building two new middle schools on separate sites is too expensive.

“It puts us at a spot uncomfortably close to what we can’t afford,” he said.

Building costs can be reduced, Kennedy said, by building one building on a single site with separate schools located in wings flanking a core building with shared facilities, including a cafeteria and gymnasium.

“I don’t honestly see how we pay for two separate schools on two separate campuses,” she said.

Donovan said a middle school campus including two schools flanking a common core would total size-wise about 250,000 square feet. By contrast, English High School is about 235,000 square feet in size and the new Marshall is 181,000 square feet.

City planners are examining the existing Pickering site and nearby Magnolia Playground and McManus Field on Commercial Street as possible sites. But Kennedy considers a proposed site off Parkland Avenue near Breeds Pond as the “only viable site” for a shared school.

Ward 1 City Councilor Wayne Lozzi said traffic concerns raised by residents living near the Parkland site must be balanced against the need for new middle schools. He said Averill Street and Shoemaker Road residents don’t want their quiet streets filled with school traffic.

Parkland Road resident and Lynn native Christina Fonseca said it doesn’t make sense to build a school in the wetlands near her home.

“I’ll go to City Hall and try to fight it,” she said. “I think it’s going to cause a lot of problems.”

Her mother, Luise Fonseca, and neighbor Angelo Codispoti said fast-moving traffic on Parkland and afternoon congestion on the busy street will worsen if a new school is built off Parkland.

Lozzi said he is taking a “wait and see” attitude toward the Pickering planning process and said he will attend all public hearings on new middle schools.


Thor Jourgensen can be reached at tjourgensen@itemlive.com.

Lynnway car-lot plan hits red light

ITEM FILE PHOTO
The Lynnway.

BY THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — The owner of the shuttered Logan Furniture store on the Lynnway is facing a stop sign for plans to turn the facility into a used car dealership.

On Monday, workmen were painting the interior of the 44,824-square-foot closed store when they were visited by the city’s Inspectional Services Department, according to Michael Donovan, building commissioner. Workers told the inspector  that Everett-based Inman Motor Sales was planning to open a used car lot on the property.

But the city’s new waterfront zoning prohibits car dealerships on the Lynnway.

“Our inspector informed them they can’t open a dealership there and told them to tell their boss to have him call the landlord because they do not have permission,” Donovan said.

In order to get approval, the property owner needs a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals. If they start to move walls, create offices or install electrical outlets, they need a building permit.

The Logan Furniture store at 730 Lynnway, which closed last spring, is owned by Car Realty LLC, an entity managed by Kenneth Carpi, according to state records. Carpi and his attorney, Thomas Demakis, did not return calls seeking comment.

This is not Carpi’s first controversial project. Despite zoning that prohibits a contractor’s yard, Carpi has sought approval to move Leahy Landscaping to his property at 732 Lynnway. The ZBA approved the petition while the matter is pending before the City Council.

James Cowdell, executive director of the Economic Development & Industrial Corp. of Lynn, said he opposes the contractor’s yard and the car dealership.

“We moved the power lines so that we could have real development along the waterfront,” he said.

Cowdell met with Carpi last week to talk about long-term plans because he is one of the city’s largest waterfront landowners.

“We had a very good conversation, but the car dealership was not mentioned,” he said.


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

Lynn states case for new middle schools

PHOTO BY BOB ROCHE
Gene Raymond of Raymond Designs explains the pros and cons of each potential site.

BY BRIDGET TURCOTTE

LYNN — The city is considering building two new schools to replace Pickering Middle School.

Architect Gene Raymond of Raymond Design Associates, Lynn Stapleton, the project manager, and city officials discussed options for the new facilities with residents Wednesday night.

Construction is expected to start next spring and take more than two years to complete.

Raymond and Stapleton worked on the $67 million Thurgood Marshall Middle School project.

This is the first in a series of public forums on building options and potential school locations.

The city is working with the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which has authorized construction of a facility equipped to hold up to 1,660 students.

Stapleton said the team is considering a two-school solution, with a total capacity of 1,600 students. The plan would alleviate overcrowding at Breed Middle School and prepare the city to educate an influx of students in coming years, she said.

Breed has 1,300 students and is designed to hold about 900, Stapleton said.

The larger capacity would accommodate about 1,000 more people in the district, and take students from Breed, Raymond said.

“One thousand, six hundred students would probably make it the largest middle school in the commonwealth,” he said. “Putting that all in one neighborhood in the city is really going to stress whatever neighborhood that is.”

Raymond also said that renovating the existing Pickering building would be “impossible and a tremendous waste of the city’s efforts and money.”

The designers are considering a dozen locations citywide, each with different permitting timelines and feasibility, he said.

Sites such as Gallagher Park and Magnolia Park were among contenders. But any open space taken for the project must be replaced elsewhere in the city, he said.

Union Hospital was considered. But the site was quickly rejected because of opposition to it’s closure, and Raymond described Barry Park as a “bathtub” during a storm.

Wetlands and traffic implications were also factors for many of the sites.

The team concluded that two “least impactful” sites are McManus Park and what they call a “reservoir site” on Parkland Avenue.

Flooding in the McManus Field neighborhood is ocean flooding, rather than rainfall, Raymond said.

Ward 6 Councilor Peter Capano said regardless of where the flooding comes from, it’s a problem in the neighborhood when it rains. He suggested developers coordinate with Lynn Water & Sewer Commission to resolve the problem before construction begins.

Resident Brian Field expressed concerns that the Parkland Avenue parcel is controlled by the Cemetery Commission and will need to be used for a cemetery expansion of the Pine Grove Cemetery within the next decade.

Michael Donovan, building commissioner, said city attorneys completed research to  determine the property is city-owned.

“These two are probably the most viable options,” Raymond said. “They’re both not jammed up against neighborhoods.”

He also had a plan for getting to each of the schools to avoid nearby Wyoma Square, which is often a bottleneck. Cars traveling from the north would follow Lynnfield Street to Averill Road. From the south, they would travel on Richardson Road, he said.

Those who hadn’t had the opportunity to see the new Marshall Middle School, got a first look through a slideshow presented by Superintendent Catherine Latham. The presentation highlighted aspects of Marshall that will be seen in the new school or schools.

Latham expects the new school will feature a cluster system, much like the one at Marshall. The children are separated into separate clusters of about 120 students. The clusters are color-coded and have all of the primary classes in one area of the building.

“We will be doing the same for Pickering,” she said.

The new school will also have the same electives offered at Marshall, including sewing, directing, and art classes, Latham said.

“These subjects make students want to go to school,” she said.

The next forum is scheduled for June 22.


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

Tracy math calls for addition

Inspectional Services Department Director Michael Donovan said city officials will review bids from companies interested in providing the modular unit for Tracy Elementary School this month and select school yard space to locate it.

BY THOR JOURGENSEN

LYNN — A modular building with two classrooms will be built next to Tracy Elementary School to help ease overcrowding in the 440-student school.

School Department enrollment data posted this week named Tracy as one of two schools with classes containing 30 or more students. Lynn Woods has 30 youngsters in first grade and Tracy’s two fifth grades each have 32.

The $500,000 modular, pre-constructed building is expected to be completed by the start of school in September.

Michael Donovan, Inspectional Services Department director, said city officials will review bids from companies interested in providing the modular unit this month and select school yard space to locate it.

Tracy already uses a modular building. The Edward A. Sisson, Hood and Ingalls elementary schools also have modular classrooms.

Tracy’s deteriorating brick exterior and other building problems prompted the city council this month to seek state approval to replace the school. Built in 1898 on Walnut Street, Tracy had a 366-student enrollment 20 years ago.

School officials are taking steps to fit a growing student population. Five years ago, 14,000 students attended Lynn’s schools. That number reached 15,800 earlier this month.

Fewer than 7,000 elementary school students were enrolled in 2011 compared to 7,850 listed in current enrollment figures.

The School Department marked a historic moment in local history when the last students filed out of Marshall Middle School on Porter Street. When they return from school vacation on April 25, they will walk into a new Marshall on Brookline Street.

The new school, with its brick, masonry and glass foyer, will be designed around a “cluster” education concept.

Sixth- through eighth-graders will be grouped in three clusters per grade with academic classes — science, mathematics, English and social studies — grouped in each cluster of 120 students.

Centered around the foyer will be two wings rising four stories high on one side of the school and two stories on the other side with the shorter wing devoted to the gymnasium and cafeteria.

Superintendent Catherine Latham previously said the school will offer “specialty” programs essential to helping keep students in school at a time in their academic lives when the pressures of learning combined with “social and emotional baggage” can drive them to drop out.

“It will have a beautiful woodworking shop,” said Donovan.

The new Marshall’s completion sets the stage for design and planning to build a new Pickering Middle School and to find ways to ease elementary school overcrowding.

Donovan said plans to date call for demolishing the old Marshall. Built in 1917 and six years older than Marshall, Pickering is in better structural condition and could serve, Donovan said, as potential space for elementary school classrooms after another middle school — or schools — are built.

“Pickering is in relatively good shape. Marshall is in poor condition with bricks falling out of it. It’s a school that is showing its age,” Donovan said.


Thor Jourgensen can be reached at tjourgensen@itemlive.com.

Parkland, Summer in middle of school search

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Gene Raymond of Raymond Design Associates talks about building a new Pickering Middle School during a site-planning meeting at City Hall.

BY THOR JOURGENSEN

LYNN — General Electric field on Summer Street and land off Parkland Avenue are potential sites for two new middle schools designed to replace the Pickering Middle School and handle future enrollment increases.

City officials named the locations as the local choices for building new schools during a Monday meeting with design consultants. The meeting kicked off a four-month-long site selection process that will include public hearings.

With a new Marshall Middle School opening this month, school officials have set their sights on replacing the 99-year-old Pickering.

The school is likely to handle expanding elementary school enrollment. But meeting participants said severe traffic congestion around the school and Magnolia Avenue flooding problems rule out Pickering as a future middle school site.

City schools started the year with 3,000 students. But Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy said the city “needs to have room for about 4,500 middle school students.”

While design consultants have examined middle school locations citywide, GE Field and Parkland Avenue emerged as preferences for several reasons.

The Parkland Avenue land located behind the “Barkland” dog park is city-owned, said city Inspectional Services Director Michael Donovan, and has not been built on.

The city faces challenges building off of Parkland Avenue if the site survives the selection review. Its proximity to Breeds Pond raises potential flooding concerns and the prospect of an extensive environmental review.

Kennedy acknowledged Pine Grove Cemetery commissioners are eying the land for more burial space.

“They have come to me and said, ‘We have no room to expand,’” she said.

Superintendent Catherine Latham said it makes sense to build a West Lynn middle school, stating, “It’s where the kids are.”

GE field is located in a floodplain. But Gene Raymond, lead architect for Lynn’s next round of school projects, said the field’s location off Summer Street poses fewer traffic problems compared to other middle school sites, including Pickering.

Kennedy said building a second school off Parkland Avenue also makes sense for what she termed political reasons. Building new schools requires bond financing approval by voters and Kennedy said Ward 1 residents who now look to Pickering as their middle school will “think they are going to get a new middle school.”

Plans to build two new schools could include changes at Breed Middle School designed to reconfigure the school’s layout to a more modern cluster concept. It would be similar to the one adopted for the new Marshall.

That change could potentially reduce Breed’s 1,300-student enrollment slightly, underscoring the need for additional middle schools.


Thor Jourgensen can be reached at tjourgensen@itemlive.com.

Picking a plan for Pickering

BY PAUL HALLORAN

LYNN — Prospects for a new Pickering Middle School took a big step forward this week when the Massachusetts School Building Authority approved the selection of an architect as part of the feasibility study.

Raymond Design Associates, the firm that served in the same role in the construction of the new Thurgood Marshall Middle School, was chosen over three other companies by the MSBA’s Designer Selection Panel, which included Superintendent of Schools Dr. Catherine C. Latham, Inspectional Services Director Michael Donovan, Jamie Cerulli, chief of staff to Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, and chair of the Pickering Building Committee.

The selection of Raymond Associates and its principal, Gene Raymond, was met with widespread approval by the Lynn contingent.

“We’re thrilled,” Latham said. “Working with Walsh Brothers (contractors) and Lynn Stapleton (project manager), Raymond has brought the Marshall project in on budget, ahead of schedule and without a single change order. We couldn’t want for anything else (with Pickering). The Marshall design is beautiful and speaks to the program that we feel will inspire and motivate our students. That design will influence the Pickering design with the intention that all middle school students in Lynn will have access to the same programs and the same opportunities.”

Donovan said Raymond is charged with exploring six options for Pickering: build a new school with capacity for 1,660 students; build two new schools with total capacity of 1,660; build a new Pickering and renovate Breed Middle School; renovate the existing Pickering building; renovate and build an addition; renovate and build a new middle school.

Donovan said the three options that include renovating Pickering will likely prove not to be feasible due to the poor condition of the building, a situation similar to what was encountered at Marshall.

“They have to look at all the options, but once you get a close look at the school, renovation would seem unlikely,” said Donovan, who added that there doesn’t seem to be much appetite for a 1,600-student building, either.

The City Council approved a $750,000 expenditure for the feasibility study, which is expected to take 12-18 months, according to Donovan. The total estimated budget for the building project is $132 million, which will include building capacity for more than twice the number of students than those currently attending Pickering, and will address future space issues. If the option with the Breed renovation is chosen, the cost of those repairs would be included in the total budget.

“The goal is to determine what is in the best interest of the city,” Donovan said, “and fit that into the estimated budget.”

In addition to exploring the various options, the feasibility study will include public meetings and site selection, as was done during the Marshall project. Ultimately, the School Committee will have to approve the preferred option, followed by the MSBA. Voters will likely be asked to authorize a bond to cover the city’s share of the cost of the project.

“This is a very positive step in a process that is thorough by design,” Kennedy said. “We have the benefit of having gone through the process for Marshall in the very recent past, and we are very pleased to be working with the same companies and individuals that have helped make that project an overwhelming success.”

The $750,000 for the feasibility study includes $450,000 for the architect, $225,000 for the project manager, $50,000 for environmental and site testing and $25,000 for other expenses.

“The feasibility really delves into the options and costs them out,” Latham said. “It gives us a very clear look at all the options.”

The Designer Selection Panel included a dozen members appointed by the MSBA as well as Donovan, Latham and Cerulli. Among the reasons cited for the selection of Raymond Associates were: excellent middle school experience and past performance with Marshall Middle School; only firm that included a HAZMAT consultant acceptable to the city; good conceptual ideas and middle school cluster development; same project management team as Marshall; credibility with the city and school district; and familiarity with the city and district.

 

Lynn looking to upgrade schools

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
City Inspectional Services Director Michael Donovan says the Tracy School’s brick construction is in worse shape than some older schools in the city.

BY THOR JOURGENSEN

LYNN — With one middle school nearing completion and a second on the drawing board, officials are turning their attention to upgrading an elementary school.

Built in 1898, the Tracy Elementary School is not the city’s oldest public school — Fallon and Aborn share that distinction. But Michael Donovan, city inspectional services director, said the Walnut Street school’s three-story brick construction makes it ripe for replacement.

“It’s in poorer shape than some of the older buildings,” he said. “The bricks are literally falling out.”

On Tuesday night, the City Council is scheduled to give School Superintendent Catherine Latham permission to submit a statement of interest (SOI) to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) for replacing or renovating Tracy. The document says the elimination of severe overcrowding is one of the major reasons for updating the school.

“Submitting an SOI is the first step in the process to receive an invitation from MSBA to enter the building pipeline,” Latham said.

Tracy’s enrollment is 434 students compared to 366 who attended the school 20 years ago. Latham said long-term planning for school buildings focused on replacing middle schools before turning to elementary school needs.

With the $92 million new Marshall Middle School nearly complete, the superintendent is considering how to move school employees and students from the Marshall on Porter Street to the new building five blocks away on Brookline Street.

A designer for the project could be selected next Tuesday after a local designer selection team, including Donovan and Latham, meet with MSBA representatives.

Donovan said the selected designer will conduct a 13 to 20-month feasibility study for replacing the Pickering Middle School, a 99-year-old building on Conomo Avenue attended by 650 students.

On Friday, Latham said the designer will consider all options to accommodate an expected increase in enrollment from the 650 students at Pickering to 1,660.  

“One site, two sites, one site and renovations or additions to Breed (Middle School), all of these options are on the table,” Latham said. “One school to accommodate 1,660 students would create the largest middle school in the state. A middle school of that size may not be desirable not only for academic reasons but also for reasons that impact the streets and neighbors at any chosen site.”  

The feasibility study will examine seven replacement plans, including building two new middle schools or a 1,100-student school the size of the new Marshall Middle School, along with a possible addition built onto Breed Middle School, Donovan said.

The study process will include public hearings and produce a rough design for a new school or schools and additions and cost estimates.


Thor Jourgensen can be reached at tjourgensen@itemlive.com.

Donovan — the man mayors turn to — deserves raise

ITEM FILE PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Inspectional Services Director Michael Donovan looks at a zoning map.

Lynn City Councilors have not scheduled a public hearing to discuss a pay hike requested by  Inspectional Services Director Michael Donovan, but a quick drive around the city should easily demonstrate the merits of Donovan’s request.

Donovan currently earns $153,000, according to city records. His request to boost his base salary from $122,400 to $140,000 would increase his pay to more than $170,000 when the 25 percent education incentive he is entitled to receive is factored in to the increase.

City Councilors reviewed the proposed hike during a Feb. 9 committee meeting, but pushed it off to an unspecified future public hearing instead of acting on it.

When, and if, he gets a chance to state his case for a pay hike, Donovan says he will point out that he has no plans to leave his job if the increase is not granted. He has also said, for the record, that his job responsibilities have significantly increased since he took his job in 2004.

Don’t be fooled by Donovan’s quiet-guy-who-likes-bowties demeanor: He is the man who mayors turn to when they want to accomplish big projects.

Donovan was working as a civil engineer in 1997 when the late Mayor Patrick J. McManus hired him to be an associate public works commissioner. Donovan was McManus’ pick, two years later, to be acting public works commissioner and Donovan immediately tackled two big projects: Boston Street’s reconstruction and Fraser Field renovations.

When former Mayor Edward J. Clancy Jr. rolled out a plan, in 2003, to streamline the city’s snail-pace permitting system, he picked Donovan — who was DPW commissioner by that time — to head up the new Inspectional Services Department.

The newly-created department won council support in early 2004, by a narrow margin, only after three councilors argued Donovan should not be given city tenure credit for his DPW experience if he was going to be hired to head up a new department. Wiser heads prevailed and none of three are now councilors.

In characteristic Donovan fashion, the new ISD head hit the ground running by helping to oversee work on the Manning Field project, beginning in 2004. He went on to help craft a plan to stabilize a sinking Classical High School and played a central role in planning the new Marshall Middle School, slated to open this spring.

Donovan drew fire from a DPW union representative at the Feb. 9 hearing and more than a couple of councilors looked a little spooked by the tirade, but Donovan’s resume and loyalty to the city speak for themselves. If he is good enough to win the confidence of three mayors, he is good enough to merit a raise.

Plans for Pickering Middle School pick up

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
The door of a classroom on the bottom floor of the Pickering Middle School in Lynn.

BY THOR JOURGENSEN

LYNN — Plans to build a new Pickering Middle School will be oriented around a busy spring and summer schedule as city officials gear up to hire a project designer for the proposed 1,660-student new school.

Inspectional Services Director Michael Donovan said design service company representatives will tour the existing Pickering on Conomo Avenue next Tuesday afternoon to assess the school’s current physical condition and learn about middle school education programs that must be incorporated into designs for a new school.

Donovan said design and feasibility study proposals must be submitted to LeftField LLC, the Boston-based project manager for a new Pickering, by Feb. 24.

“We will evaluate and select the top three with March 2 interviews tentatively scheduled,” Donovan said.

With a prospective $130 million price tag, a new Pickering could be the most expensive school the city has ever built. Like the new Marshall Middle School set to open this spring, a new Pickering replaces a century-old building with weather-damaged ceilings, stairwells and classrooms and equipment deemed outdated for a 21st-century middle school education.

City officials are working in partnership with the Massachusetts School Building Authority on the Pickering project with designer selection completed by the end of March. Donovan said an architect “will kick off the project” in April.

Pinning down where to build a new Pickering is a process already underway locally, and parents and residents will get their first chance during a May 24 public hearing to comment on the project and voice their views to project representatives and public school officials.

Donovan anticipates another hearing will be held in June as officials begin to narrow down a plan for what the school will look like and the educational programs a new Pickering will offer.

Using local school enrollment information and population forecasts, the MSBA approved a 1,660-student capacity for the new school.

Donovan said planning for Pickering will involve narrowing down proposed options for replacing Pickering, including building two separate new schools; building a new school on Conomo Avenue; building a new school and an addition to Breed Middle School; renovating the existing Pickering; renovating the current school and adding an addition and building a new school on a new site.

“If all goes well, we will submit to the MSBA in September a feasibility study,” Donovan said.

Once a plan for a new Pickering is narrowed down to a single option, detailed architectural work begins.


Thor Jourgensen can be reached at tjourgensen@itemlive.com.

 

City Council to give raise request an inspection

Michael Donovan

By THOR JOURGENSEN

LYNN — City Inspectional Services Director Michael Donovan said he wants to continue doing his job even if city councilors decide not to increase his $153,000 a year salary.

“It will go where it goes with the council. I will still be here whether I get it or not,” Donovan said.

Because Donovan is seeking to boost his current department base pay from $122,400 to $140,000, the request requires a change in a city ordinance and council approval. Councilors have scheduled the proposed change for a public hearing, but they have not set a date for the hearing.

Donovan currently earns significantly more than his base salary because, under the city educational incentive, he is entitled, as an advance degree holder, to a 25 percent income boost on top of his base pay.

He is not the only department head who gets incentive pay under city ordinance. Chief Financial Officer Peter Caron, Public Works Commissioner Andrew Hall and Acting Parking Director Robert Stilian are also entitled to receive incentive pay along with other city department heads.

Donovan said he is overdue for a raise. Hired to run Inspectional Services in 2004, he said the department expanded, beginning in 2006, with city custodians and street light maintenance. The 40-person workforce Donovan said he initially supervised now totals 120 workers.

“I’m seeking compensation for those duties. With more work I expect more pay. That’s the American Way,” he said.

Donovan has received cost of living adjustments mirroring ones received by the American Federation of State, City and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3147, a city union.

An officer in another city union, AFSCME Local 1736 representing 64 DPW employees, told councilors, during a Tuesday council committee meeting, that Donovan doesn’t deserve a raise. Richard Germano, 1736 vice president and city plumbing foreman, painted a grim picture of relations between the director and DPW union workers.

“We’re beaten like dogs by this man. I don’t understand why Mr. Donovan can receive a raise such as this,” said Germano.

Ward 3 Councilor Darren Cyr came to Donovan’s defense during the meeting.

“I work almost on a daily basis with Mike Donovan. He works hard. He is an asset to the city,” Cyr said.

Councilors Buzzy Barton and Peter Capano raised concerns about a Donovan-specific raise.

“There’s a lot of workers that are deserving,” Capano said.

Donovan said ISD has reduced street lighting costs and other utility expenses by millions of dollars during his directorship.

“I think I’ve proved myself,” he said.


Thor Jourgensen can be reached at tjourgensen@itemlive.com

Council may make itself heard in emerging city labor talks

City councilors have always been passive third-party spectators to negotiations between sitting mayors and city unions, but there is mounting evidence indicating the current council is poised to weigh in on bargaining talks.

Several councilors got an ugly glimpse Tuesday night into existing city-labor relations when Richard Germano, a city union vice president, claimed, in a public meeting, that Public Works employees are “beaten like dogs” by city Inspectional Services Director Michael Donovan.

The topic at hand, during the meeting, was a proposed raise for Donovan and at least one councilor quickly praised the ISD chief for hard work and accountability. Other councilors adopted a more skeptical tone and, by the end of the evening, councilors made it pretty clear the verdict is decidedly out on changing a city ordinance to grant Donovan’s request.

Most councilors think Donovan does a good job, but labor has a louder voice on the current council in the wake of last November’s city elections. Veteran teachers union member Brian LaPierre swept into office with a councilor at large win and Ward 7 Councilor Jay Walsh is a rank-and-file labor leader at the River Works, along with Ward 6 Councilor Peter Capano. Add to that contingent retired firefighter and one-time labor leader Buzzy Barton.

Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy calls the shots on negotiations with city unions, including police, firefighters and teachers, and a half decade in office has highlighted her negotiating skills.

She quickly unraveled personality and leadership problems hamstringing the fire department by working with fire union leaders in 2010. She followed up that success by sorting out city residency law disagreements to the satisfaction of union leaders.

Make no mistake about it, city unions have sounded death knells for Kennedy’s predecessors. Former mayors Albert V. DiVirgilio and Edward J. Clancy know the price tag that comes with battling the firefighter’s union. The late Patrick J. McManus called the firefighters allies and Kennedy has taken a similar stance.

Unlike McManus, who saw federal public safety money pour into city coffers during the Clinton administration, Kennedy must make tough decisions when it comes to union negotiations and price tags associated with them.

Her success in resolving the vexing net school spending problems means the city must dedicate millions of dollars to meeting state educational spending demands. An annual city budget surplus, called free cash, will help her make that end meet, but where will it leave the mayor when she needs to dig into the city budget to pay union contract price tags?

Kennedy is flirting with a 2017 run for another mayoral term. Nailing down city contracts could be an important benchmark along the way to election success.

State approves Pickering School project manager

Plans to build a new Pickering Middle School took a “critical” step forward Monday, said City Council President Dan Cahill, when state officials approved a project manager to oversee construction of a new school.

BY THOR JOURGENSEN

LYNN — Plans to build a new Pickering Middle School took a “critical” step forward Monday, said City Council President Dan Cahill, when state officials approved a project manager to oversee construction of a new school.

“This really starts the ball rolling. This is a good sign we will continue to keep this project on schedule,” Cahill said.

City Inspectional Services Director Michael Donovan said LeftHand LLC is the right company to oversee the Pickering project because Lynn Stapleton, the chief person overseeing the Marshall Middle School project, works for LeftHand.

“She is very experienced — this is a very important step,” Donovan said.

With a project manager in place, the city will pick an architect in May to begin designing a new Pickering. Donovan said the process of narrowing down a site for the new school will be finalized sometime in September or October.

Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy said land located off of Parkland Avenue near the “Barkland” dog park opposite Pine Grove Cemetery is a leading candidate for a new school site. Pickering student enrollment totaled 618 students last fall — five over its 613-student construction capacity when the school was built in 1917.

But Pickering — like the existing Thurgood Marshall Middle School on Porter Street — is showing its age and needs repairs. Built on a hillside, the building is frequently invaded by seeping water and paint is peeling off its ceiling and walls.

It lacks 21st-century technology and learning tools that will be standard in the new Marshall under construction on Brookline Street. The first new school built by the city since 1997, Marshall will be open to students in April.

Cahill said building new public schools fits into elected officials’ vision for new private and public sector development in Lynn.

Thor Jourgensen can be reached at tjourgensen@itemlive.com.