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.
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 [email protected].