Rethinking the Marshall Middle School site

The City Council is poised to move ahead with redeveloping the Porter Street site where the former Marshall Middle School is located.

There’s only one problem: One bidder submitted a response to the request for proposal the city advertised for the site.

That is a concern.

Councilors will be serving the city and its residents responsibly if they shelve the bid and go back to the drawing board to launch a fresh reexamination of the former school site’s future. A question needs to be answered and two initiatives need to be undertaken as part of that reexamination.

First, does the city need to earmark the former Marshall for surplus school space and commit to maintaining the building in case it needs to be reactivated for duty? The question carries added weight with the city’s decision to reach out to the state school building authority to talk about the need to replace the aging Pickering Middle School

A thorough analysis of citywide public school needs should be undertaken or updated to assess available building space and enrollment needs. The Porter Street building should remain in the public school inventory until a definitive study rules out the need for its future use as school space.

Second, the consensus residents living near the former Marshall is that 100 units of senior housing and, possibly, additional housing and commercial space is the best use of the Porter Street property. Neighborhood concerns must be given strong consideration in planning the property’s future. But the city needs to do a comprehensive assessment of the area around the former middle school to get an accurate perspective on housing trends, economic growth, transportation patterns and socio-demographic trends. A city planner is the best person qualified to conduct such an assessment and Lynn doesn’t have one.

Third, the city unnecessarily narrowed the pool of potential site developers by accepting a School Committee provision setting a $4 million minimum bid amount for the building’s sale price. That high purchase ceiling eliminated potential bidders and reduced the options available for the city to entertain a wide range of proposals for the Porter Street site’s future.

In rethinking the Porter Street plan, a good first step is to hire a real estate consultant who can guide the process of writing a new request for proposal. Someone who works with developers and knows the real estate market should play a central role in helping the city assemble a new pool of potential developers providing that is the direction the city wants to go in with the Porter Street site.

There is no reason for the city to rush the former Marshall School to market — providing city officials ensure the building is secure and structurally safe and communicate with neighbors about its condition. Now is the time for city leaders, from Mayor McGee down, to take a deliberative approach to future use of a major property in a land-poor city.

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