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 email@example.com.