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.”
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 [email protected]