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.
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 [email protected]