By Cary Shuman
Donald Castle will try to persuade the Lynn City Council at its Jan. 24 meeting that the new Pickering Middle School should not be built adjacent to Breeds Pond Reservoir off of Parkland Avenue.
Though the Council’s vote that night is for advancing a debt-exclusion question to a citywide ballot, Castle wants to state in a public forum his group’s strong opposition to the Parkland Avenue site.
Castle is president of the Protect Our Reservoir, Preserve Pine Grove group. Castle, along with secretary clerk Gayle Chandler and treasurer Bob Roach, expressed their concerns about the Parkland Avenue school project during an interview this week with the Lynn Journal.
The School Building Committee has approved a $185 million plan to build two new schools, one off of Parkland Avenue and the other on McManus Field off of Commercial Street.
“We want to say that we fully support a new school for our kids,” said Castle. “I’m a product of the Lynn schools and my brother is, too. “But the city wants to build a new school on Parkland Avenue on [Pine Grove] cemetery land,” said Castle. “A Lynn family owned the cemetery and they sold it to the city with the agreement that it would be used for continued burial use.”
The group has a copy of a century-old document that proclaims that the site can only be used for cemetery land.
Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy disagrees with that conclusion.
“It’s not the cemetery,” said Kennedy. “We have researched that at the Registry of Deeds and it is land owned by the City of Lynn for public use.”
Supt. of Schools Dr. Catherine Latham, who has received praise for the continued improvement of the school system overall and helping to bring a beautiful state-of-the-art Marshall Middle School to the city, said 12 sites in the city were considered for the two new school projects.
“Pretty much everybody reviewed the sites – city officials, Mike Donovan, the architect, the engineers, our project manager did a thorough review of all the sites,” said Latham.
Latham said the MSBA has never replaced one school with two schools (grades six through eight) as is proposed for Lynn, “but it’s because they did a large enrollment projection and they know that we’re going to need at least 1,000 more seats very shortly in the Lynn schools.”
Latham said she is aware of the Preserve Our Reservoir, Protect Pine Grove group and noted that group members spoke at two of three public forums on the issue.
Castle said that according to the Mass. School Building Authority (MSBA) the city has to address their concerns locally “and they never addressed them.”
The group feels the city is rushing the project forward before it can be reviewed thoroughly by neighbors of the Parkland Avenue site.
“The biggest thing is that the city does not want to lose the funding (reimbursement from the state) so it’s something that’s really being forced [on the City Council],” said Roach.
“The Council is in a tight spot and we understand that,” said Castle. “But we asked the Council to ask the School Committee and the mayor to pick a different site.”
Chandler is firm in her opposition to the Parkland Avenue site.
“I just don’t understand why their hearts are so set on Parkland,” said Chandler. “To me, it’s just such a bad location. You have the cemetery issue, you have the reservoir there, the woodlands, you have the traffic issue and the congestion – why pick the most difficult site when there are eight acres down the street (at Gowdy Park)?”
Chandler added that from physical, logistical and environmental standpoints, “you name it, it just doesn’t make sense.”
Lynn Councilor-at-Large Brian LaPierre said he is supportive of a new Pickering School. His wife teaches at Pickering and his children would attend the new school.
“As an educator, I want the new school at the McManus Field site and the Resevoir site as they call it,” said LaPierre. “I am not thrilled with the process and how we got here, but that’s beside the point on this one. I believe our choice is to affirm the School Committee decisions which is to let the public decide in March in a citywide vote on both schools and to take one home on Parkland Avenue by eminent domain.”
LaPierre said while he remains critical of the building committee process on selecting the Parkland Avenue site, “I’m still going to vote to move it forward and put the question on the ballot and let the voters decide ultimately in March.”
Kennedy said the Parkland Avenue school site emerged as “one of the preferred sites by the second meeting of site selection committee.”
The mayor also addressed the concerns about access to the school.
Kennedy said the city looked at different access roads to the school before deciding that “the expense of building an access road further away from Richardson Road was prohibitive. We were able to reconfigure the road that comes out from Richardson up to the school so it only required taking of one home (by eminent domain) as opposed to two.”
But Castle and his group will be front and center at Tuesday’s Council meeting. Castle concedes that there have been public forums in the past but no meeting has been held directly with the neighbors. He added that Councilor Peter Capano, who represents the district, has been very supportive of the group’s efforts.
“We feel the process has been totally unfair and I just can’t fathom that the mayor would not have a meeting with the neighbors who are directly affected by this site. We sent an 80-page opposition letter to the state and the state has asked the city to answer our concerns.”