Pine Grove Cemetery Commission

Pickering principal states case for new school

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

By THOMAS GRILLO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lynn seeks middle ground on school project

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — The city said they have found a way to end the fighting over construction of a controversial middle school proposed near Pine Grove Cemetery, but opponents are standing firm.

Last week, the City Council asked the law department to prepare documents that would convey portions of the city-owned 40-acre site to the Pine Grove Cemetery Commision. Under the plan, the commission could use land not needed for the new school to expand the graveyard. The move was made to assuage school opponents who have insisted that the land was reserved for a graveyard. They have threatened court action if the school is approved.

“This should end all debate and any discussion of a taxpayer lawsuit,” said James Lamanna, city attorney.

But Protect Our Reservoir – Preserve Pine Grove, a grassroots organization founded to fight the school site, said it is not willing to compromise.  

At issue is a controversial proposal for a pair of schools that would serve students in the Pickering Middle School district. Proponents say the new schools are needed to accommodate a growing school population.

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In a special election on March 14, voters will be asked to pay for a 652-student school to be built near the cemetery and Breeds Pond Reservoir off Parkland Avenue. A second facility to serve 1,008 students would be constructed on McManus Field on Commercial Street. Plans for the second school have no opposition.

If approved, homeowners would pay an estimated $75 million, or an average of $200 annually for the next 25 years on their real estate tax bills.

Lamanna said as many as 17 acres are needed for the new school. The rest, with the exception of four acres of wetlands, could be used to expand the cemetery, he said. The commission will consider the proposal on March 7.

One of the problems of enlarging the cemetery has been a $1 million project needed to build a new road and a bridge over wetlands to access the parcel, Lamanna said. While the commission lacks the funds to complete the project, the infrastructure would be built as part of the school project with most of the cost being reimbursed by the state.  

But the location of the proposed school, on what opponents insist has been designated by the city as cemetery land, has stirred debate. Opponents have argued that the Parkland Avenue property was intended for cemetery use, citing a city document from 1893.

On Saturday, they will plan to hold a fundraiser at Hibernian Hall on Federal Street to fight the proposal.

Donald Castle, one of the organizers of Protect Our Reservoir – Preserve Pine Grove, said they are not opposed to a new school, but to the site. He said the city’s latest plan to divide the parcel is wrong.

“It’s been cemetery land for 127 years and its wetlands with protected species,” he said. “It’s an inappropriate site.”


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

Pine Hill stuck in the middle

Pickering Middle School (Item file photo)

By Adam Swift

 

LYNN — Residents in the Pine Hill neighborhood are firmly against building a new school near Breeds Pond Reservoir off Parkland Avenue, as well as a second potential site at Gallagher Park.

Nearly 100 members of the Pine Hill Civic Association and assorted concerned neighbors met at the Hibernian Hall Thursday night to discuss the evolving nature of plans to replace the deteriorating Pickering Middle School on Conomo Avenue.

“This is our little slice of paradise living in Pine Hill,” said neighborhood resident Don Castle. “We don’t want anyone changing or disrupting our neighborhood with a big school.”

While the residents, as well as three city councilors who attended the meeting, are firmly against the building of a new middle school at either the Parkland Avenue or Gallagher sites, the whole issue could be a moot point by late this morning.

The Pickering Middle School Building Committee is scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. this morning, with discussion centered on the Parkland site.

The building committee was set to focus on legal documents identified by the city law department tracing historic ownership of land proposed for the school construction.

In August, the building committee approved constructing two middle schools to replace Pickering. One school would house 652 students at the Parkland site, while a larger school for 1,008 students would be built on McManus Field on Commercial Street.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), which would fund a portion of the project, has to approve the potential middle school sites.

City attorney James Lamanna said the law department became aware of documents from 1893 last week suggesting that the Pine Grove Cemetery Commission obtained a loan and purchased the land where the new school could be constructed.

Ward 5 Councilor Dianna Chakoutis, Ward 6 Councilor Peter Capano and Councilor-at-Large Brian LaPierre all reiterated on Thursday night that they are against seeing a new school built at either the Parkland or Gallagher locations.

Castle also brought forward the possibility of a taxpayer initiative legal action against the city to intercede against the taking of the Parkland Avenue land, if that option does move forward.

“I thought Parkland Avenue was off the table, and that’s a move in the right direction,” said LaPierre. “I want a new middle school, and it would be great to have two new middle schools.”

LaPierre said he wants to see a new school at McManus Field, and possibly a smaller school on Magnolia Avenue near the current Pickering School.

A drawback to the Magnolia site is that there is a Massachusetts Water Resources Authority pipe located on the property that provides water to Swampscott and Marblehead. Relocating the pipe could cost as much as $800,000, according to city officials.


Adam Swift can be reached at aswift@itemlive.com.

Lynn middle-school plan under further review

Pickering Middle School (Item file photo)

By Gayla Cawley

LYNN — Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy will call a meeting to discuss legal questions that have arisen regarding a proposed middle school off Parkland Avenue.

The meeting will focus in part on legal documents identified by the city law department tracing historic ownership of land proposed for the school construction.

In August, a city building committee approved constructing two middle schools to replace Pickering, located on Conomo Avenue. One school would house 652 students near Breeds Pond Reservoir off Parkland Avenue, while a larger school for 1,008 students would be built on McManus Field on Commercial Street.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority has to approve the potential Pickering sites.

“I am in receipt of a letter from the Law Department that warrants the re-examination of the selection of the site off of Parkland Avenue for a new middle school,” Kennedy said in a statement Tuesday. “While the city attorneys expressed an opinion that the city can legally construct a school on this property, they did so with the admonition that potential litigation could delay the project by at least two years. In response to the communication, I will be convening a meeting of the Pickering Building Committee as soon as possible to present this new information and engage the committee in a thoughtful discussion about how we should proceed.”

City attorney James Lamanna said the law department became aware of documents from 1893 last week.

In a letter to the mayor, city Solicitor Michael Barry said the documents suggest that in 1893, the Pine Grove Cemetery Commission obtained a loan and purchased the land where the proposed Pickering Middle School would potentially be constructed on the Reservoir site. He said the documents have not been filed at the Essex County Registry of Deeds, but appear in an 1893 report of the Pine Grove Cemetery Commission to the mayor and City Council.

Kennedy, who was not available for an interview Tuesday, said in her statement that she was aware that the building committee selected the Parkland Avenue site after a “lengthy and thorough process that weighed the pros and cons of all realistic options.”

“As mayor, I have been consistently reluctant to sign onto policies and rulings that would likely be overturned in court. In this instance, the issue of time is of major consideration,” she said in the statement. “It is not my preference to have this project delayed by any significant period of time. We have more than 3,100 students in middle school this year and that number is projected to rise by as much as 25 percent in the next several years. The simple fact is that we need the amount and caliber of space suitable to meet their educational needs.

“It is no secret that the city is land-poor when it comes to the amount of area needed to construct new schools,” Kennedy continued. “I have an obligation to bring the information from the law department to the committee and allow it to reconsider the selection of the site. I would stress that this action should not be construed as my advocating the elimination of the Parkland Avenue site from consideration.

“I simply want to present the building committee with the pertinent information, consult with the experts who have already done extensive research and fact-finding, and work toward making a decision that will best serve the students and educators who deserve quality space in which to teach and learn,” she said.

Another site the committee has looked at is Magnolia Avenue near the current Pickering site.

A drawback to the Magnolia site, Lamanna said, is that there is a Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) pipe located on the property that provides water to Swampscott and Marblehead. He said the pipe would have to be relocated, as the school could not be built on top of it. Moving the pipe could cost the city $500,000 to $800,000, he added, and said that the city can’t take any action that would interfere with water provided to another community.

School Superintendent Dr. Catherine C. Latham said she was aware of the impending Pickering Building Committee meeting.

“I feel confident that the building committee will continue to work very hard to analyze all the data it has available in order to come to the best solution possible,” Latham said in an email.

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

 

Plotting a plan for cemeteries

Nicola Nicosia looks through the newer section of Riverside Cemetery in Saugus. File Photo

No one wants to think about cemeteries unless they have to plan or attend a funeral or they are in the stone carving business. But the growing need for additional cemetery space is becoming a major concern for communities including Saugus, Nahant and Lynn.

Nahant is several years away from worrying about running out of space in Greenlawn Cemetery. But the island town’s residents know they are limited when it comes to available land and they know they need to eventually include a cemetery expansion into a community with limited amount of space.

Cemetery space concerns are more pressing in Saugus where Riverside Cemetery has fewer than 100 remaining plots available. The town is looking at expansion options and restrictions on adjoining property as well as potential conservation concerns dictate how additional space will be found in Riverside.

Burial in past centuries was a private matter or a church concern and Lynn and other North Shore communities with origins in the 17th century are dotted with old grave lots and small historic cemeteries. With final resting places now the responsibility of private or public cemeteries, burial space has become a concern involving public officials.

Lynn wants to build a new middle school off Parkland Avenue and Pine Grove Cemetery Commission officials are sure to attend a September public hearing on the middle school proposal. They will raise concerns about the need for future cemetery space and the need to make Pine Grove a priority for future Parkland Avenue land use.

Land is at a premium in Lynn and it will be interesting to see how city officials balance Pine Grove’s future space needs against the more immediate need to set aside land for a new middle school.

Cemeteries are not simply a final resting place for the dead. They are a place to mourn and remember the living. They provide a strong connection to family history and they are hallowed ground highlighted on Memorial Day as the burial places of veterans.

Concerns steeped in emotion as well as history must be weighed as part of any plans to expand cemeteries or provide more burial space. It remains to be seen if private cemeteries can provide space to expand municipal burial grounds. It is also unclear how a burial space shortage that is sure to grow and not diminish will change cemetery layout and restrictions on plots and grave markers.