Protect Our Reservoir – Preserve Pine Grove

Protect-Preserve needs to produce

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Don Castle motions at the “no-vote” victory party in this March file photo.

The founder of the “no new schools” movement pledged following the March 21 referendum vote to reach out and work with school officials.

Almost three weeks have passed and that conversation between Donald Castle and the officials he wants to speak with has yet to take place.

Mr. Castle and his Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove campaign defeated the city’s request to fund an $188.5 million plan for a middle school on Parkland Avenue and a second one on McManus Field.

Give Mr. Castle credit; he tapped into voter anger over taxes and tallied a 64 percent to 36 percent win.

He told The Item’s editorial board before the March 21 special election that he opposed construction of the Parkland Avenue school because the city’s forefathers wanted the 44-acre site to be reserved to expand the Pine Grove Cemetery.

He argued that the parcel is too close to Breeds Pond Reservoir, the buildings were too expensive, and the process failed to be inclusive.

Insisting his group is not anti-education or anti-new schools, Mr. Castle said he would reach out to city officials after the school vote and say, “We want to work with you.”

He kept up that refrain the day after the election, saying, “I extended an olive branch to the mayor and the committee to pick another site.”

Schools out in Lynn

Mr. Castle and Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, a school construction supporter, each say they made post-election efforts to reach out and meet, but missed each other’s post-election calls. Castle got a chance to state his case last week during the Pickering Middle School Building Committee meeting. Kennedy made a motion to suspend the rules and allow Mr. Castle to speak.

He declined.

“It was a bag job,” he said following the meeting, “They wanted to pick a fight with me, I’m not going to get into an argument with the superintendent that would make me look dumb. The proponents never sat down with us or called us once. I feel bad for the kids, but now they want to talk to us in the 11th hour. No thanks.”

Sorry, Mr. Castle, you can’t have it both ways. Protect-Preserve won a stunning election victory. But the middle-school enrollment tidal wave threat still looms.

Maybe Mr. Castle wants to hold on to that no new-schools anger and see if it converts into a possible City Council bid.

Maybe he got tongue tied when the opportunity came to actually present city decision makers with his school construction suggestions.

Or maybe it’s time for Mr. Castle and Protect-Preserve to make good on his pre-election statement and offer specific and positive ideas for solving the city’s school space crunch.

Unless they never had any ideas to begin with.

Schools out for the time being in Lynn

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy is pictured at a discussion on schools.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — No new schools will be built in the city anytime soon.

That was the decision of a city panel Tuesday that orchestrated a plan for construction of two middle schools to ease overcrowding and replace a dilapidated facility.

Following last Tuesday’s special election where voters resoundingly rejected a request to fund an $188.5 million plan for a school on Parkland Avenue and a second one on McManus Field, the Pickering School Building Committee withdrew its application for state funding.

In addition to taking itself out of consideration for funds, Lynn Stapleton, the city’s project manager for the school proposal, said Lynn had a number of options. They included a plan to split the project into two and build one school first and then a second; build one school and renovate the Pickering Middle School; or build one school and use Pickering as an elementary school.

But the panel seemed in no mood to consider them.

Before the vote to end the city’s bid for school dollars, Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy invited Donald Castle, a founding member of Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, the grassroots organization that campaigned against the schools, to speak to the committee. The mayor said he had an alternative plan. But he declined.

School Committeewoman Donna Coppola voiced concern about where new students would be placed.

“We have kids coming in that will not have seats,” she said.

Edward Calnan said the committee did their job and despite the vote against the schools, the members should be proud of the work they did.

“We were told we needed to provide space for 1,600 students and that’s what we did,” he said. “We did an exhaustive search for sites in the city and came up with the best ones that were the least expensive to make the project viable.”

Off and running in Lynn

Kennedy said it’s clear the voters have no appetite for more taxes and she will honor their wishes.

“The people spoke loud and clear,” she said. “The problem was the price tag and I’m just ready to drop the whole thing. They say insanity is doing the same thing but expecting different results. That’s what we would be doing if we did anything but drop it.”

With that, the 16-member group voted unanimously to tell the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the  quasi-independent government authority created to help pay for the construction of public schools, that Lynn won’t be seeking funds.

At the close of the meeting, Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham choked back tears as she expressed her disappointment in the failure of the vote for the new schools.

“Our new Thurgood Marshall Middle School is a model for the entire state and I was hoping that just viewing that could carry an equalized opportunity for all our students,” she said. “But it was not to be.” 

In an interview following the meeting, Castle defended his position not to speak to the committee.

“It was a bag job,” he said. “They wanted to pick a fight with me, I’m not going to get into an argument with the superintendent that would make me look dumb. The proponents never sat down with us or called us once. I feel bad for the kids, but now they want to talk to us in the 11th hour. No thanks.”


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

Lynn says no; so what now?

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Cathy Rowe posts early returns Tuesday night at Lynn City Hall.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — One day after a ballot question to build two middle schools lost in a landslide, proponents are reeling from the outcome.

“We knocked on doors and got great feedback from folks, so we were surprised and saddened by the outcome,” said Brant Duncan, president of the Lynn Teachers Union. “I don’t know why there was such large opposition.”

In a special election on Tuesday, voters rejected two ballot questions that would have authorized a $188.5 million plan for a 652-student school on Parkland Avenue and a second school to house 1,008 students on McManus Field on Commercial Street.

Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, a grassroots organization founded to fight the schools, managed to get the no vote out. They argued that the 44 acres near the proposed Parkland Avenue school site should be reserved exclusively for future burial grounds and open space.

At a meeting of the Pickering School Building Committee at City Hall on Wednesday, Lynn Stapleton, the school project manager, thanked the panel for their hard work and acknowledged the sadness in the room.

“It was an overwhelming no vote,” she said. “And the votes came from well beyond where the school was to be located. The outcome was really upsetting, but we will move on.”

Schools out in Lynn

Donald Castle, a founding member of Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, said he plans to meet with the mayor in the coming weeks.  

“We want to give everyone time to consider the results,” he said.  “I extended an olive branch to the mayor and the committee to pick another site. And we ask the City Council to keep the 44 acres for the cemetery.”

The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), the quasi-independent government authority that funds school construction projects, which agreed to fund a portion of the Lynn project, gives the city 10 days to explain why the vote failed and how the city wants to proceed. Under the agency’s rules, the city could withdraw or modify its plan and re-apply for funds by April 7 or meet next year’s April deadline.

One of the options is to build just one school, Stapleton said. Or the city could consider a phased option where construction begins on one school and then another. The other possibility is to simply add more classrooms at the Thurgood Marshall Middle School. The city could also withdraw from the competitive funding process.

Given MSBA’s timelines, if the city decides to go forward with a new plan, nothing will happen until 2020.

Full results of Lynn school vote

But Stapleton suggested this was not the time to make any decisions.

“Emotions are a little raw right now,” she said. “Let’s think about it, schedule another meeting and see what we might come up with for alternatives. We don’t have lots of time. But if you think that you have any kind of plan that might conceivably work, I recommend that we submit it to the MSBA within 10 days and see if we can get them to work with us. Otherwise, your only other option is to withdraw from the program and submit next year and try to get back in.”

Following the meeting, Dr. Catherine Latham, superintendent of Lynn Public Schools, said she was heartbroken for the school children and the city.

“I don’t think the vote was about the money, but I just don’t know,” she said. “I wish I knew.”

Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy said she needs time to consider the vote.

“I need to figure out why they voted no,” she said.

Duncan, the union president, said the vote doesn’t resolve the need for more classroom space or the condition of school buildings.

“The Pickering’s roof was leaking significantly on election day from the melting snow,” he said. “It’s the city’s responsibility to come up with a solution.”


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

Schools out in Lynn

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Judy Odiorre, Jeanne Melanson, and Marie Muise celebrate the “Vote No” victory at the Old Tyme Restaurant.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN —  Voters said no to a nearly $200 million proposal to build two middle schools Tuesday, rejecting the measure by a decisive margin.

The controversial ballot asked voters to green light construction of the schools while a second question sought approval to pay for them. The first vote failed 63 to 37 percent, the funding question lost 64 to 36 percent.

“I am really proud of my neighborhood grassroots group that stood up for what they believe in,” said Donald Castle, a founding member of Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, an advocacy organization founded to fight the ballot question. “The city, and in particular, the mayor and the superintendent, really need to reassess how they do business with taxpayers.”

Castle said the vote turned on the process, financing, the site that includes land that the founding fathers intended as cemetery expansion, as well as wetlands.

It was a spirited campaign where proponents and opponents took their case to Facebook and in dueling op-ed pieces.  The Item editorialized in favor of the project on Page 1 twice in the final weeks of the campaign.

Of the 8,539 votes cast on the first question, 3,189 were in favor while 5,350 were against. On the second question, of the 8,454 votes, 3,014 were in favor while 5,440 opposed. The no vote was nearly unanimous in every ward and precinct across the city.  

Full results of Lynn school vote

The vote is a setback for Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, the superintendent, the Lynn Teachers Association and nearly all of the city’s elected officials who were in favor of the project.

“I’m disappointed for the students more than anything,” said Kennedy.  

As far as renovating the existing Pickering Middle School, Kennedy said that is not possible.

“We can’t afford it,” she said. “That would be $44 million out of the city’s budget … there is absolutely no way we can afford to renovate Pickering.”

Dr. Catherine Latham, superintendent of Lynn Public Schools, said she was greatly disappointed that the vote to build two new middle schools failed.  

“The greatest investment a city can make is for the education of its children,” she said in an email.  “Apparently our residents are unable to make such a investment at this time. I will continue to work with the state and the city to examine possible solutions to our school needs.”

If approved, the city would have built a 652-student school near the Pine Grove Cemetery and Breeds Pond Reservoir on Parkland Avenue. A second school would have housed 1,008 students on McManus Field on Commercial Street. In making the case for the new schools, Latham said 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. The new schools were needed to fix a problem of insufficient space and inadequate facilities.

The new schools would have added an additional $200 to the average tax bill for a single-family home each year for the next 25 years.

City Council President Darren Cyr, an enthusiastic supporter of the new schools,  said he was extremely disappointed in the vote.

“I feel sorry for the kids in our city,” he said. “They are the losers. There are no winners.”


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

City put to test Tuesday

PHOTO BY PAULA MULLER
Brant Duncan, right, of Lynn, talks to Eric and Bibiana Rogers at their home on Glenwood Street. Duncan was campaigning for a “Yes” vote for new schools.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN If early voting is any indication, Tuesday’s special election about funding a pair of new middle schools should bring more voters to the polls than the last time a new school was put on the ballot.

By noon Friday, the City Clerk reported 1,000 absentee votes have been cast in advance of the March 21 special election. Voters who can’t make it to the polls on Tuesday have until noon today to vote at City Hall.

While 1,000 votes may not seem like a lot in a city with more than 52,000 registered voters, consider that only 93 early voters came out before the 2013 vote to approve borrowing $92 million for design and construction of the new Thurgood Marshall Middle School.

The controversial initiative seeks approval to borrow $188.5 million to pay for a 652-student school to be built on Parkland Avenue and a second one to serve 1,008 students on Commercial Street. A second question asks voters to OK an exemption from Proposition 2½, the tax-limit law.  

In the high stakes election, parents of school children and educators are pitted against a coalition of Pine Hill residents who say they oppose the Parkland Avenue site because it should be preserved to expand nearby Pine Grove Cemetery.

“Both sides have gotten their message out and we expect a big turnout,” said Jane Rowe, City Clerk and Elections Chief. “People aren’t coming in and talking about they voted so we really won’t know how people voted until Tuesday night.”

The election was originally scheduled for March 14. But as a blizzard threatened to shut down the Bay State with more than a foot of snow, the vote was postponed by Essex Superior Court Judge Peter Lauriat. In an emergency meeting last week, the City Council moved the election to the 21st.

In a filing to the city on campaign spending, Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, a grassroots organization founded to fight the ballot question, reported it raised $1,395 from Jan. 1 through Feb. 24.  Two Schools For Lynn, a group of residents and teachers who favor the new schools, reported $11,055 in donations, much of the cash from the Lynn Teachers Association and public officials.  Sen. Thomas McGee (D-Lynn) is the lastest elected official to say he will vote for the new schools. “I’m planning to vote yes,” he said. “The kids need the new schools.”


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

Lynn school election snowed out

PHOTO BY SCOTT EISEN
Lynn City Clerk Janet Rowe, left, and election coordinator Mary Jules help Tim and Deborah Potter cast absentee ballots.

By THOMAS GRILLO

SALEM — As a late season blizzard threatens to shut down the Bay State with more than a foot of snow, today’s high stakes election on funding two new middle schools has been postponed.

Essex Superior Court Judge Peter Lauriat issued the ruling on Monday in response to a request from the city. Less than three hours later, in an emergency meeting, the City Council moved the election to next Tuesday, March 21.

Lauriat approved a request by Richard Vitali, the city’s assistant city solicitor, to delay the special election. While the city had hoped the judge would approve the March 21 date, Lauriat declined.

“The City Council set the date of the first vote, they should set the new one,” Lauriat said from the bench.

That set in motion a swift response from City Hall to call for an emergency council meeting

“I’m glad,” said Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy. “I wanted to make sure we got into court today because it’s becoming more and more evident that it would be a real public safety hazard to have people attempting to go out to vote in a storm like this.”

Current system not sustainable, Latham says

Voters are being asked to pay for a 652-student school to be built near Pine Grove Cemetery on Parkland Avenue. A second facility to serve 1,008 students would be constructed on McManus Field on Commercial Street.

If approved, property owners will be responsible for $91.4 million of the total $188.5 million project cost. School officials said $11 million in contingency funds are included in the overall calculations. If those monies are not used, officials said it would reduce the taxpayer portion by that amount, making the taxpayers’ bill about $80 million. City officials say the average homeowner would pay from $200-$275 a year extra on their real estate tax bill for the next 25 years.

Donald Castle, a founding member of Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, a grassroots organization founded to fight the ballot question, said his group will spend the extra week before the election to convince residents to vote no.

“The fight continues,” he said. “We will keep organizing to oppose this.”

We’re not anti-education, ‘no’-voters say

In a filing to the city on campaign spending, Two Schools for Lynn, the group organized to support the project, reported they raised $11,055 from Jan. 31 through Feb. 24. Much of the cash, $5,000, came from the Lynn Teachers Association. Public officials also made donations. City Councilor and state Rep. Daniel Cahill contributed $500, the mayor wrote a check for $200, City Councilor Brian LaPierre gave $450 and City Councilor Buzzy Barton donated $200.

The group opposing the ballot initiative, Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, failed to file on time. Castle said the report was in the mail and estimated the group raised about $7,000.


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

Don’t bury Lynn’s future: Vote yes on schools

We urge a vote tomorrow in favor of building two new middle schools and approving a tax hike to pay for them.

The 2 Schools for Lynn supporters make a strong case for the city moving forward to build a new school on Parkland Avenue and another in West Lynn, citing rapidly increasing enrollment in existing schools.

Protect Our Reservoir-Preserve Pine Grove members summarize their opposition to the ballot question by criticizing the proposed Parkland Avenue site near Breeds Pond and arguing the city cannot afford its share of the $188.5 million project, which is estimated to be a maximum of $91 million.

Voters will be asked tomorrow to pay for new schools by approving a measure excluding the school debt from the property tax-raising limitations set by state law. This request is unprecedented in the city’s history and ballot question opponents are correct when they say the debt exclusion request is set against the backdrop of the city’s recent financial problems.

The city’s bond rating has been downgraded and city Chief Financial Officer Peter Caron sounded an alarm about city finances last December. But the economic benefits to the city from building new schools outweigh financial concerns.

Ballot question proponents convincingly argue that families and businesses looking to relocate in Lynn assess school quality in making their decisions. Building new schools does not simply benefit the students who will attend a new West Lynn and Pickering in 2019 and 2020, respectively. New construction also benefits future generations of students.

Ballot question opponents say they share this viewpoint. But they argue the Parkland Avenue site is a poor location because, they say, it negatively affects Pine Grove Cemetery and the woods around the pond.

Both of these arguments are weak. The Parkland Avenue and the West Lynn site were picked because they did not contain the hazardous materials contamination and flooding problems identified on other potential school sites. Proponents also point out that the Parkland Avenue site will be separated from Breeds Pond by a hill.

Opponents argue that the 44-acre site where the school has been proposed has for decades been viewed as cemetery land. But proponents point out only 12 acres are actually needed for the school project, meaning the remaining land can be destined for cemetery use.

Question opponents are also unrealistic when they say, “find another site and we will support it.” Lynn is an old, land-poor industrial city with few suitable sites available for school construction.

Opponents are misguided when they say the city can abandon plans to build on Parkland Avenue and simply propose another school site to the state and receive quick funding approval.

Competition for limited state school building assistance reimbursements is stiff. Waiting to build new schools will only drive up future construction costs. Lynn can’t afford to miss this chance to build new schools with the state’s help.

Every student in Lynn deserves a state-of-the-art middle school like Thurgood Marshall on Brookline Street. We urge a “yes” vote on Tuesday to propel Lynn into a future marked by success and opportunity for all residents.

We’re not anti-education, ‘no’-voters say

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Donald Castle and Gary Welch argue against the construction of two new middle schools in Lynn.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Leaders of the opposition to next Tuesday’s ballot question on construction of two middle schools insist they are not anti-education and or anti-new schools.

They argue one of the sites is unacceptable because it robs land intended for the expansion of Pine Grove Cemetery, it’s too close to Breeds Pond Reservoir, the buildings are too expensive and the process has failed to include opposing voices.

“The Parkland Avenue site is one of the worst and this process has been rigged,” said Gary Welch, a member of Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, a grassroots organization founded to fight the location of the Parkland Avenue school. “Our argument is based on this being the wrong site, although we know some people will vote no because of the cost.”

Donald Castle, a founding member of the group, said officials selected Parkland Avenue before there were any public hearings. He said there are cheaper alternatives.

In an interview with The Item’s editorial board on Thursday, Welch and Castle made the case against the $188.5 million project and urged residents to vote no.

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 in West Lynn on McManus Field on Commercial Street.

The new schools will add an additional $200 to the average tax bill for a single-family homeowner each year for the next 25 years.

Current system not sustainable, Latham says

While Castle and Welch agree with the city’s attorney that deeds clearly state the 44 vacant acres at Pine Grove is owned by the city, they say it was always intended for a future graveyard.  

“It is city land,” Castle said. “But we want to uphold what our forefathers did 127 years ago to keep it cemetery land for so many reasons: to bury people and to protect the environment and the wildlife.”

Castle and Welch dispute the reasoning behind the Pickering Middle School Building Committee’s rejection of at least 10 other potential sites for the Parkland school.

“The feasibility study had a number of different locations that we favor,” Welch said. “Come up with a better site and I’ll vote yes.”

He said the best solution is to renovate the existing Pickering Middle School. The other option is to build the middle school in West Lynn that would serve Pickering students and others, Welch said.

Castle disputed the $44.2 million cost of the renovation, that school officials said will not be reimbursed by the state.

“Show me where that $44 million came from,” he said. “We don’t think that’s legit … I don’t know how much it will cost, but I don’t think it will cost $44 million.”

They also object to any development so close to the reservoir.

“We are concerned about building so close to the reservoir,” Welch said. “We are being sold a pig in a poke and we’re being asked for something that no one knows much about.”   


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

 

Lynn mayor offers tax cuts to seniors

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN Trying to head off opposition to a $188.5 million school construction project, City Hall is offering more tax relief for seniors.

Under a plan proposed by Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy to offset the cost of building two new middle schools, the city plans to boost the real estate tax exemption to seniors by $200 and reduce the eligibility age to 65, from 70.

“We believe adopting these options will provide the necessary relief to seniors who would be most affected by a tax increase,” Kennedy said in a statement. “I have spoken to many seniors who are supportive of the new schools’ proposal, but understandably concerned about the impact on their taxes. Hopefully, this will make them feel more comfortable about a ‘yes’ vote.”

On Tuesday, March 14, voters will be asked to approve a tax hike to pay for a 652-student school to be built near Breeds Pond Reservoir off Parkland Avenue and a second facility to serve 1,008 students on McManus Field on Commercial Street.

If approved, voters will be responsible for $91.4 million of the project cost. The Massachusetts School Building Authority, the quasi-independent state agency that funds school projects, said it will contribute $97.1 million.

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 homeowner will pay an additional $200 in taxes per year for 25 years.

If voters reject the tax hike, the increased tax exemption would be dropped.

Kennedy said she’s heard the concerns of seniors who are worried about a $200 tax increase if voters approve two new schools. The mayor asked the Board of Assessors to explore options for providing additional tax relief.

The tax exemption is available to income-eligible seniors. A couple can earn no more than $29,804 and have assets of less than $45,974, not including a home and car. A single senior can earn up to $23,792 with assets no more than $42,908.

Today, about 100 seniors receive the $500 deduction, according to Peter Caron, the city’s chief financial officer.

Caron said most seniors who receive the exemption have homes valued around or under the average single-family value of $273,600. As a result, he said, the $200 additional exemption would mitigate the tax increase required to pay for the city’s share of the school building project.

“We have made a concerted effort to answer questions and address concerns related to the new schools,” Kennedy said. “It is critical that we build these schools in order to have the space required for the 20 percent increase in enrollment we will see in the next two years.”

Gary Welch, a member of Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, a grassroots organization founded to fight the location of the Parkland Avenue school, declined comment. Donald Castle, a founding member of the group, could not be reached for comment.


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

Mayor, super make case for new schools

PHOTO BY PAULA MULLER
Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham talks to a crowded room at Stadium Condominiums in Lynn.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy is taking no chances when it comes to passing a controversial ballot question to fund a pair of new middle schools.

On Wednesday night, the mayor and her City Hall team made the case for the $188.5 million project to more than three dozen seniors who packed the recreation room at the Stadium Condominiums.

“Right now, the library at Pickering consists of two rolling carts with books and there are no science labs,” Kennedy said. “When you contrast that with what we see at the new Thurgood Marshall Middle School, the kids are simply not getting the same educational experience.”

In a passionate plea, Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham said every child who attends a middle school should have the same opportunity as every other child.

“Our beautiful new Marshall has cooking, sewing, wood shop, a TV studio, three-dimensional art rooms, music rooms and they should be available to everyone in Lynn,” she said.

Latham said there is lots of misinformation about the project. The city looked at more than a dozen sites, she said.

“We’ve heard people suggest a site on Federal Street near the fire station,” she said. “But it’s contaminated land and that is not a possibility. Magnolia Avenue has flood plains and an MWRA water line. Some have told us to use the Union Hospital site; we don’t own it.”  

The building committee also considered renovating the existing Pickering and that would cost $44 million without any state reimbursement, Latham said.

If approved by voters on March 14, the Pickering Middle School on Conomo Avenue would be replaced with a school on Parkland Avenue near the Pine Grove Cemetery and Breeds Pond Reservoir that would house 652 students, while a larger school for 1,008 students would be built on McManus Field on Commercial Street.

Residents will be responsible for an estimated $91.4 million or 51.5 percent of the total $188.5 million project cost. The city said the average homeowner will pay an additional $200 in taxes per year for 25 years. The rest of the cost will be picked up by the  Massachusetts School Building Authority, a quasi-public agency that funds school construction.

But Donald Castle, a Stadium unit owner and founder of the Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, a grassroots organization that opposes the Parkland Avenue school site, urged the crowd to vote no.

“Your taxes will go up above and beyond the legal limit for 25 years,” he said. “The land should be preserved for a cemetery. We ask the city to protect our cemetery and protect our reservoir.”

James Lamanna, the city’s assistant city solicitor, said the school will use about a dozen acres of the 44-acre site. The rest, he said, will be preserved for cemetery expansion. In addition, he said, the project will fund a $1 million road and bridge that the Cemetery Commission could not afford. Without the school, the land could not be accessed for new graveyards.

City Council President Darren Cyr said he favors construction of the two schools.

“No matter where kids live in Lynn, they should have the same opportunities as kids get in Swampscott, Marblehead and Lynnfield,” he said. “Every one of us has a chance to change kids’ lives and by voting yes on March 14, you will give those kids a chance that they will not get otherwise.”

School Committee member Lorraine Gately said a yes vote is essential for the city’s children.

“If we don’t support this, our future is larger class sizes and double sessions,” she said.

Moving on time in Lynn


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

Pickering in middle of ballot debate

COURTESY PHOTO
An artist’s rendering of the proposed Pickering Middle School.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN  — If mother knows best, then an organized group of moms could be hard to stop as they push for two new middle schools in the city.

For the first time in Lynn’s history, voters will be asked to voluntarily raise their real estate taxes to pay for a school to be built near Pine Grove Cemetery and Breeds Pond Reservoir off Parkland Avenue and a second facility on Commercial Street for West Lynn. Local moms say it’s worth it.

“There’s simply not enough room in the existing middle school and the conditions are terrible,” said Christine “Krissi” Pannell, the parent of a 4-year-old who attends the Busy Bee Nursery School. “The reasons that people want to vote no are petty compared to the reasons why we should be voting yes.”

The special election, scheduled for Tuesday, March 14, is pitting mothers against a vocal opposition who insist they are not against new schools. Instead, they say the city should find an alternative to the Pine Grove site that has been reserved for the graveyard’s expansion.                                                            

If approved, voters will be responsible for $91.4 million or 51.5 percent of the total $188.5 million project cost. The city said the average homeowner will pay an additional $200 in taxes per year for 25 years. The rest of the cost will be picked up by the  Massachusetts School Building Authority, a quasi-public agency that funds school construction.      

Project Manager Lynn Stapleton said the actual cost of the project could be as much as $16 million less because the city is required to include contingencies that may not be needed. As a result, she said, the taxpayer contribution would be lower and the average cost per homeowner could drop below $200 annually.                                

“We are not opposed to the new schools, but we object to using Pine Grove Cemetery property and we oppose any effort to take that land for a school,” said Gary Welch, 63. “We are not anti-education and NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) activists. We are fine with the West Lynn site.”

Still, others who oppose the school have raised the issue of more traffic in the Parkland Avenue neighborhood, and the prospect of higher taxes.                                                                               

But the opposition hasn’t stopped moms from organizing to get out the vote in favor of the schools.                                       

Pannell said she has no patience with any of the arguments against the Parkland Avenue school.                                           

“I can’t believe people would vote no because they might have to wait a couple of extra minutes in the morning to get onto Parkland Avenue,” she said. “Traffic happens wherever there’s a school, so you plan ahead. Are we really going to deny these kids a better education and better conditions because we don’t want to figure out a little traffic pattern? As far as the cemetery is concerned, bury me anywhere. We’re talking about a new school for kids versus where we are going to bury people in 15 years when they die. Give me a break.”                               

Welch said opponents of the Parkland Avenue school are also concerned that the new access road would have a detrimental impact on the nearby reservoir. The city should consider other sites such as a parcel off Federal Street near Market Basket and one on Magnolia that would have less impact, he said.

But the School Building Committee said they vetted other sites and Parkland Avenue makes the most sense. They argued that no matter where a school is built, there will be opposition.         

Tara Osgood, whose two boys attend the Sisson Elementary School, said Pickering has outlived its usefulness.

“I attended Pickering when it was a junior high school when it had a seventh and eighth grade, and now there’s a sixth grade crammed into it,” she said. “It’s horrifying. It’s falling apart and there are 30 kids in a classroom. That’s major wear and tear on a 100-year-old building. It was never meant for that many kids and that many grades.”                                                        

Osgood said the condition of Lynn’s school buildings is driving parents out of the city.                                                          

“People who lived here their entire lives are moving out, not because of crime or taxes, it’s because the schools are falling down on the kids,” she said. “Nobody likes paying more taxes, but I am willing to pay a few hundred more for better school buildings for our children.”                                                       

But not everyone agrees. About 200 opponents packed the Hibernian Hall on Federal Street Saturday night to fight the proposal. The group, Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, raised $7,200 to continue the battle, according to Donald Castle, one of the founders.                                                       

Despite the well-financed opposition, Kristen Hawes, whose children attend Lynn Woods Elementary School, said she intends to vote yes for new schools.                                     

“These schools will benefit our children,” she said. “I understand there are issues about the cemetery and taxes. But  I’d rather pay for two brand new schools than have my taxes go to another charter school.”                                                         

Emily LeBlanc-Perrone, who is pregnant with her first child, said voters need to invest in the city if they want Lynn to improve.                                                                                      

“It will cost a few hundred more, but that’s not much when you consider we are investing in our children and for the community,” she said. “These are the people who will run the city someday and we want to provide them with the best education we can.”

Swampscott is showing signs of love


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tigrillo@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.

Swampscott school race draws contenders

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.