By BRIDGET TURCOTTE
LYNN — Three to four dozen protesters gathered at Thursday night’s School Committee meeting to protest the construction of a potential new middle school near Breeds Pond Reservoir and the loss of homes the city could take to build it.
The School Committee discussed requesting the City Council vote for eminent domain of two properties adjacent to the reservoir, including 103 Parkland Ave., owned by Luise Fonseca.
Project Manager Lynn Stapleton said the properties would be used to create an intersection and improve traffic.
“I saved up all my life to buy it,” Fonseca said. “I have deer in my backyard. It’s a beautiful spot.”
Fonseca said the second property is 97 Parkland Ave.
“(Fonseca) is a 77-year-old woman, she bought her house to live there for life,” said Donald Castle, a neighborhood advocate. “Parkland Avenue is the most expensive site. Pick another site. I don’t see voters approving this.”
“It’s very difficult to sit here and know the woman is very ill and you want to take her home,” said School Committee Member Lorraine Gately.
The panel voted to table the discussion and hold a special meeting on Dec. 15, after the Building Committee discusses other options, which Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy said are less expensive.
Kennedy said voting in favor of the recommendation would not be a vote to take the properties but it would keep the option open and comply with the demands of the timeline necessary to fulfill Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) requirements. The quasi-independent government funds public school projects.
If the MSBA approves, the agency would contribute $114.5 million toward the two schools, 62.5 percent of the cost.
Voters will be asked to support a so-called debt exclusion next spring. Residents would have a $163 annual hike in their real estate tax bills for the next 25 years.
The city’s School Building Committee gave approval to build two new schools to serve students in the Pickering Middle School district and West Lynn in October. The $183 million proposal includes a 652-student school to be built near the reservoir off Parkland Avenue and a second school on McManus Field on Commercial Street to serve 1,008 students.
City Attorney James Lamanna said by law residents need to be notified months before they need to vacate their homes. The houses will be appraised and the property owners will have the opportunity to challenge the amount. They are assisted with relocation and compensated for additional costs if necessary.
“It’s not like winning the lottery, but property owners will make out much better,” Lamanna said.
The committee also voted unanimously to request the Lynn Park Commission and Conservation Commission vote to convert the park land at McManus Field into a school and replace the park land at the reservoir site.
The protesters filled the meeting room equipped with signs and information packets.
Castle is against the site for legal and moral reasons.
“We’re all in favor of a new school,” he said. “We have 200 people in our group. Hundreds of people oppose this site. There’s not a few of us, there’s a lot of us. We’re not just disgruntled. The process hasn’t been fair.”
Brian Field, a resident and funeral director, argued that the Parkland Avenue property was intended for cemetery use, citing a document from 1893.
“Pine Grove Cemetery will be full in 10 years,” Field said. “The city will be without a cemetery in 10 years’ time.”
Lamanna said there are “no restrictions” on the property and feels confident the court would not “put a burden on any property owner or buyer to go to the Lynn Museum or the Lynn Library” to find documents.
Proposed plans include taking four-and-a-half acres of park land from McManus Field. To replace them at another location in the city, fields will be created at the Parkland Avenue site, Stapleton said.
“We’re just looking to replace it at this point, we don’t have plans other than to protect it,” she said. “We have room for two turfed fields, football field size fields. There is a potential for a third turfed field there.”
Fonseca said the discussion didn’t give her much relief. “They’re only prolonging my agony,” she said.
The project requires voter approval. Registered voters will decide in March.
Bridget Turcotte can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte