Challenge to debate Lowell City Councilor Bill Samaras

Lowell Sun’s The Column on Sunday had an interesting blurb describing some friction between Lowell City Councilors Corey Belanger and Bill Samaras.

Councilor Belanger said, “Some of my colleagues seem to have a status quo mentality. When I look at Merrimack Street and the empty storefronts, I know that we have to do more than we are doing for economic development.”

According to the Sun, Samaras said “… he was not pleased with Belanger’s comments and would debate him ‘any time, any place.’” Samaras then said, “I take offense at that. I am against the status quo. I want things done right. I don’t want to play games.”

I hereby challenge Councilor Samaras’ comments stated above. I propose we air this out on 980WCAP on either Ted Panos Morning Show or Warren Shaw’s Saturday Show.

I propose that Councilor Samaras and I (a Lowell citizen) have a conversation about the future of Lowell High School, as relates to the what’s in the best interest of Lowell’s students. I will also be prepared to exchange views on the other side of the argument relative to the City of Lowell’s economic development strategy going forward, and how these decisions affect the interests of Lowell’s student population.

I only ask that 980WCAP carry the “debate” uninterrupted for a full hour with no commercial breaks. Either Teddy or Warren can act as facilitator (assuming one or the other can do so in unbiased fashion). Secondly, 980WCAP will carry the “debate” on their website so that people who cannot listen live can listen in later.

Councilor Samaras, I’ll meet you at 980WCAP on Central St. any time the station is willing to have us to have a reasonable discussion about the matter outlined above. Please reply by the end of business on Thursday of this week.

Sincerely,
George DeLuca
george@cometolowell.com

Lowell High School: Study the Feasibility of Cawley Campus

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Coming soon to Belvidere?

Saturday Morning Musings

Hmmm … there’s a couple of interesting articles in the Lowell Sun this morning.

It’s fun watching Kendall Wallace’s trip back to the future in this morning’s Saturday Chat Column. Look’s like he’s engaging in a little fence mending after last week’s thinly veiled but acerbic threats to Lowell City Councilor Corey Belanger’s political career. He didn’t really mean it … he just want’s the Lowell citizenry to shut up about the terrible lockstep decision of the School Committee and City Council to support the renovation and expansion of Lowell High School in its current downtown location.

Why worry? Our big brother, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, will fix everything and tell us what we need … right? A week after the infamous vote of April 1 (April Fools Day), the City Council flip flopped … too late. Now the City of Lowell is looking mighty foolish with its hand out for (80% of) $245 million for a project it really doesn’t want.

Kendall thinks that doesn’t matter. The state will set us straight, since apparently our City pols don’t know what they’re doing. Of course, no one thought to ask the Lowell Community (the City’s biggest resource) for its collective input.

South Common High School – Same dog, different fleas

Then there’s the story about Councilor Corey Belanger’s South Common or bust strategy by the Sun’s Lyle Moran. Corey’s committed to the fight of moving Lowell High School to the Olmstead masterpiece. Ok, this won’t take long: So the idea is to choke city traffic at the gateway to the city just off the Lowell Connector, destroy another beloved Lowell park, and tear down a middle school when there’s a k-8 space crisis. Nuff said on that issue.

Lowell High Cawley Campus

Now why doesn’t Councilor Belanger want to talk about this option? Oh, that’s right, he’s from Belvidere. Had he even brought this up during last year’s election campaign, there’s no chance he would have been elected.

Ok, then let’s take politics out of the equation for a minute. The Lowell High Cawley Campus option recommended by OMR Architects is the one most deserving of a feasibility study.

Lowell CFO – check! Now hire an interim Director of the Planning & Development Dept.

Kudo’s to new City Manager Kevin Murphy for bringing in former Cambridge City Manager Robert Healy as acting CFO. Now, let’s get a top flight (interim) urban planner on board so the City Council and School Committee can stop acting like planning professionals. Its an embarrassment to the city’s population to have bar owners and school administrators attempting to make major decisions about the City’s future without a planning chief. I’m sure Mr. Healy can make recommendations in this area as well.

The future of the Lowell School Committee

The proof is now firmly sitting in the pudding. It’s time to do away with the Lowell School Committee. The City should consider forming a Lowell School Commission to advise the City Manager and City Council. This way, the school superintendent can report directly to the City Manager, avoiding future disconnects like those which have occurred over the past few School Committee administrations.

Case in point: The current School Committee was recently taken to the woodshed by OMR Architects, who ultimately told them that the City of Lowell is now facing $550 million of needed repairs and expansion substantially due to neglect, obsolescence and deferred maintenance. Evidently, no one’s been minding the physical plant.

George DeLuca
ComeToLowell.com

updated: April 22, 9:51am
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Related Posts:
How much power does Jim Cook have in Lowell? Is the Lowell High School capital plan a done deal?

Lowell business leaders: “Move Lowell High School!”

Lowell, MA is clearly at a fork in the road.

“Futility of Future Improvements” for Lowell High School?

Lowell High School abutter: “We’re sitting ducks!”

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Has Lowell High School become the neighborhood bully? Ask Lowell Professional Park business owners on Arcand Dr. that question.

I feel like a sitting duck here with a bullseye on our forehead and we are just sitting here waiting to be taken over. It would be a disaster for all of us. Lowell Professional Park business owner.

So much for Lowell High School wanting to be a good neighbor. As Maynard G. Krebs would say, LHS is like “… the monster that devoured Cleveland!”

Where do we fit into the plan?

Where does Lowell Cent Savings Bank fit into the plan?

Abutters including Lowell Five Cent Savings Bank and the Lowell Professional Park are expressing horror over the prospect of being “devoured” by neighborhood bully Lowell High School.

Now that its clear that adverse decisions have been made threatening the abutter’s collective interests, it’s beginning to dawn on everyone that the one key component the Lowell City Council and School Committee left out of the discussion was … well … the discussion.

As business owners now scramble to protect their interests, it’s clear there will be no public hearings required by the City as the Statement of Interest for the priority project has already been forwarded to the Mass. School Building Authority (MSBA).

Evidently, the public outreach phase was bypassed by the Lowell School Committee in the rush to get the High School renovation and expansion project in front of the MSBA before the Lowell City Council could fully review, digest and evaluate what it was voting on. Nevertheless, the City Council did undertake a token vote in support of whatever the School Committee had decided, leaving several Councilors scratching their heads in the aftermath of School Dept. Jay Lang’s misinformation faux pas.

I have to admit that Lowell School Superintendent Jean Franco indeed does have a fastball, as she clearly blew it by the residents and stakeholders of the City. They never even saw it.

Then of course there’s this School Committee end around:

September 21, 2013 from School Committee member Kim Duggan Scott: “George, I sent Jay a question asking when the community vision sessions will be held. There were already three staff sessions held. I will keep you up to date and I will make sure parents and residents get a voice in the process.

GD reply: Perfect … Thanks Kim!

September 22, 2013 from School Committee member Kim Duggan Scott: “Every time I see relevant information I will send it to you….this Monday there is a facility subcommittee (I am not on that committee) that will be discussing the architects report. I am awaiting a response on the community and parent input from Jay, but it would certainly be an appropriate forum to voice your concerns on community involvement and let the subcommittee members know that it will be noticed. Jim, Bob, and Kristin are on the committee.”

Encouraged by Kim’s show of support for community input, I did speak at the Lowell School Committee Facility Subcommittee meeting, and, the subsequent general School Committee meeting. At these meetings I was provided assurances that indeed community and stakeholder forums would be held just after the November 2013 elections. At these meetings I praised both committees for their progressive approach to community outreach (believing what Kim, other School Committee members and school administrators had said).

I was assured at these meetings that nothing would be decided without public forums to generate the input of residents and stakeholders of the City of Lowell. However, these consensus building sessions never happened, and ultimately both the School Committee and the City Council voted unilaterally to accept School Supt. Jean Franco’s recommendation that the High School renovation and expansion project be isolated from all other alternatives and submitted to the MSBA as the golden $245 million priority project.

Then on April 15, 2014 I received this message from Kim: Ok George, all of our meetings were public and the MSBA will have forums. Unfortunately, you are the ONLY person who has spoke with me in opposition to the High School staying downtown. I do work for the people and all that I heard wanted it to stay where it is. Take care.

Whoa, hold it right there. Kim, weren’t you and State Rep. Nangle among those who originated and supported moving Lowell High School to the South Common? Insert Kim’s answer here. Editor’s note: State Rep. Kevin Murphy had nothing to do with it as he stated at the time.

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Lowell City Council: “We only care about Belvidere abutters.”

I also remember City Councilor Rita Mercier approaching me at one of the City Council Candidates forums expressing concern about my support of moving the High School to the Cawley site (the current site most worthy of a feasibility study). She said she couldn’t support it due to abutter’s concerns.

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Lowell Five Cent Savings Bank interests go ignored after 160 years of service to the City of Lowell.

It’s beginning to sound like Downtown Lowell is considered Belvidere’s ugly stepsister. Send all your drug addicts, homeless, panhandlers and undesirable situations to the Downtown Lowell. And by the way, we don’t want High School students in Belvidere either.

George DeLuca
ComeToLowell.com
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Related Posts:
How much power does Jim Cook have in Lowell? Is the Lowell High School capital plan a done deal?

Lowell business leaders: “Move Lowell High School!”

Lowell, MA is clearly at a fork in the road.

“Futility of Future Improvements” for Lowell High School?

Downtown Lowell businesses are feeling kept out of the loop …

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Is keeping Lowell High School Downtown a bad idea?

Yesterday I received this Facebook IM from Lowell School Committee Member Kim Duggan Scott:

Ok George, all of our meetings were public and the MSBA will have forums. Unfortunately, you are the ONLY person who has spoke with me in opposition to the High School staying downtown. I do work for the people and all that I heard wanted it to stay where it is. Take care.

Monday I received this email from a concerned Downtown Lowell business owner:

George
Do you know when the City/Lowell School Committee will host public hearings on the possible expansion of Lowell High School on its present site. They constantly talk about community input but I have never seen anything about any public hearings on this. Any idea?

Today I received another email expressing a similar concern of feeling left out of the loop. These businesses DO NOT want the High School to “… stay where it is.”

Editor’s Note: Anyone who wishes to weigh in privately can email me at
george@cometolowell.com.

George DeLuca
ComeToLowell.com
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Related Posts:
How much power does Jim Cook have in Lowell? Is the Lowell High School capital plan a done deal?

Lowell business leaders: “Move Lowell High School!”

No High School at the South Common

Reference: Paul Marion’s comments regarding the South Common at RichardHowe.com.

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Lowell’s South Common should remain a public park.

Paul’s right on all counts. I also attended the public forums and participated in discussions about the planned revitalization of the South Common. It’s not the appropriate place for a high school, and there’s no way to justify tearing down the much needed Rogers Middle School.

City Councilor Ted Kennedy stated before the the infamous vote to prioritize the downtown renovation and expansion of LHS, that the need for more middle school space is the priority. He’s right. Heaven knows why he voted otherwise.

Plans for the South Common show promise, and it could be a wonderful park once the process of re-invigoration is complete. First, the City and the Landscape Architect must complete the public forums and provide answers to questions previously posed prior to moving forward.

Editor’s Note: I first heard the idea to build a high school at South Common expressed by School Committee member Kim Duggan Scott. Evidently, it was just another smokescreen to draw focus away from the SC’s power play to prioritize renovating and expanding Lowell High School downtown.

George DeLuca
ComeToLowell.com

Lowell Sun columnist Kendall Wallace lays an egg …

Could this property better serve the City?

Could this property better serve the City?

Jim Cook’s buddy finally comes to the rescue wearing a white hat and riding his trusty Palomino. The two were seen arm in arm cooing and wooing Cookie’s protege Derek Mitchell at the Owl Diner last fall just before the City Council election. No happy ending there.

Lowell Sun Chairman of the Board Kendall Wallace now feels its time to retaliate, stepping into the fray in total opposition to his President and Publisher Mark O’Neil. For those who don’t remember, Mr. O’Neil came out in favor of moving the high school out of downtown during the recent economic development forum on 980WCAP (engineered by Morning Show host Teddy Panos).

Let’s start with this quote from Kendall’s column: Nearly 600 people were in the Lowell Memorial Auditorium on Oct. 2, 2009, when famed urban- planner Jeff Speck made a very exciting presentation about what downtown Lowell could be if it undertook a few minor and major projects.

That’s odd … since Jeff Speck didn’t arrive in Lowell, family in tow, until April 2010. His report wasn’t completed until October 2010, so how much could he have known about Lowell in October 2009? And by the way, when the report was completed, the City Council never voted on it. That explains why the residents and stakeholders of Lowell still haven’t been allowed an opportunity to express their opinions about it in a public forum.

The meeting I attended in April, 2010 was held at the MCC Federal Building, where about 100 people packed a room while Speck talked about his methodology, i.e., to make sure he landed on the right side of the fence with his bosses at the Lowell Plan.

Is that why Speck was given the plum $75k contract … to hang out in Lowell on a family vacation while also working on his book “Walkable City”? The book was released a short time after Speck left Lowell. As I understand it, book sales are great!

What I remember most about the April meeting was Speck testing the waters of public opinion, with one woman rising to ask why Lowell’s diversity wasn’t represented in the room. Interesting question.

Didn’t the Lowell School Committee follow Cook’s example, subsequently use a similar tactic with OMR Architects? The resulting Statement of Interest to the MSBA suggests this scenario: “We’ll pay you $350k to come up with a 3,000 page report that says in essence, ‘The High School must remain downtown.’ If you can do that, you’re hired.”

Here’s the thing: Any professional can advocate for either side of an issue. BUT … neither Jeff Speck nor OMR Architects have been able to effectively argue (in good conscience) for keeping the High School in Downtown Lowell.

Both Speck and OMR know that a city consists of it’s residents and stakeholders. Both are community conscious and oriented. In fact, most urban planners and architects consider these the most important focus groups. They learn about the needs of user agencies, taxpayers concerns, economic development strategies and similar concepts in Urban Planning 101 & Architecture 101. But with the School Committee and City Council in lockstep with the Lowell Plan follies, what’s a professional firm to do?

Here’s a gem by Jeff Speck regarding the High School issue: This renovation would be focused primarily on the replacement of the school’s newer 1980 wing which, unlike the older school buildings, has been plagued with problems since its construction. These problems include leaks, toxic carpets, code violations, and a notoriously under sized cafeteria separated from its kitchen. Without getting into details, it is important to insist that any new high school in Lowell be subject to a much improved procurement and design process than was in place in the late 1970s.

That’s not exactly an endorsement of the City of Lowell’s project management capability. It would seem we’re back to square one after that dismal failure. That debacle’s just going to remain Lowell’s dirty little secret, isn’t it?

The process is now proceeding in exactly the same fashion, so apparently Lowell’s condemned to repeat it’s previous mistakes. No measure twice, cut once for Lowell. No … Let’s do it right the first time … for this City. Better not let the taxpayers in on this, they’ll never buy in, so let’s try the old end around … AGAIN.

Memo to Kendall: Councilor Belanger hasn’t yet come out in support of moving the high school to Cawley Stadium, so you can stop threatening to ruin his political career in retaliation for your Belvy NIMBY friends. Isn’t that what your column was about? Councilor Belanger’s concerned about a ravaged economy in Downtown Lowell. He knows the City can do better. Shame on him, right?

Teddy, keep the fire under this one … it’s going to be a long HOT summer!

Not in my neighborhood, neighbor!

Not in my neighborhood, neighbor! Courtesy Lowell Shallot

By the way Teddy, those kiosks on Father Morrissette Blvd. you keep mentioning … yep, Cookie Ball again. You see, (and this is TOP SECRET) City Manager Lynch had to put the kiosks in to lock in the funding for the trolley to nowhere.

The only way to acquire the funding for the expansion of Lowell’s trolley system, is by eliminating parking spaces … in this case the fake ones. When the plans are finally unveiled and the trolley is shown going down the center of Father Morissette, those spaces will be needed for the median widening project.

The key to getting these things done is SECRECY, right Jim? Otherwise, someone may start questioning the legalities of all these shenanigans. In the meantime, the residents and stakeholders await an opportunity to input. Oh right, the Statement of Interest has already been filed with the MSBA.

George DeLuca
ComeToLowell.com

updated April 15, 2014 at 10:08am

Is Councilor Belanger seeking a review of the Lowell High School Property to study its potential as an Economic Development Enterprise Zone?

The following motion was filed by Lowell City Councilor Corey Belanger on April 4 (just after last week’s School Committee Meeting): 9.9 C. Belanger – Req. City Council include an assessment of the cost of a new high school to be built at another location. 2014/281. Councilor Belanger’s motion will be discussed at tomorrow’s meeting of the Lowell City Council.

Last week, members of the Lowell School Committee voted unanimously to establish the Lowell High School renovation and rebuilding project as the Priority Project in the City’s Statement of Interest to the MA School Building Authority (MSBA). The intent to file this document was previously approved by both the School Committee and the City Council.

If submitted by April 11 as is, the MSBA will come to Lowell late summer/early fall of this year to review the current site of the high school and decide whether the project has merit. If approved, a feasibility study will be authorized and the wheels will be in motion for the MSBA to fund 80% of this project. This is the scenario Jim Cook of the Lowell Plan predicted.

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Lowell City Councilor Corey Belanger

If I’m reading the situation correctly, Corey doesn’t want the City to commit to a Priority Project unilaterally decided by the School Committee. Councilor Belanger wants the City Council to review other options. Specifically, he wants the Council to consider relocating the High School outside of Downtown Lowell, thus initiating a process for envisioning the creation of a viable economic development strategy for the struggling Downtown area.

The City Council was obviously confused about what they voted on last Tuesday, and Councilor Belanger implied that he felt misled by Jay Lang, Deputy Director of Lowell Public Schools.

Councilor Belanger filed his motion just after the Lowell School Committee Meeting last Wed. Apparently, the intent is to find a way to direct the School Committee to modify the “Statement of Interest” Priority Project to include an additional option for MSBA consideration: Move the High School out of Downtown Lowell and designate the Lowell High School property as an Economic Development Enterprise Zone. Councilor Belanger’s motive seems to be tied to the manner in which events have unfolded since the November election. Let’s hope he’s sincere and not trying to straddle political fences.

It’s common knowledge that Councilor Belanger ran for City Council touting a platform that considered the future of Downtown Lowell as crucial to Lowell’s economic development strategy going forward. The High School in its current location stands in the way of his vision. The problem is that Corey has a strong constituency in Belvidere, and, he’s a resident in that neighborhood. He stopped short during his campaign of suggesting Cawley Stadium as an alternative location for those two reasons.

Corey did explore the Gorham St. location behind the Butler School (the old Prince Spaghetti site), but no one has expressed enthusiasm. If Corey turns his sights to the Cawley Stadium location, he may or may not be “one and done” as a City Councilor. But if the Cawley Site as a Priority Project succeeds in overtaking the Downtown location in the eyes of the MSBA (and the City), Corey could go down as one of the great City Councilor’s in Lowell’s history.

In Lowell’s illustrious past, how many City Councilors have had the vision and the courage to lead the City into the future at a critical moment in history? Corey clearly sees the fork ahead … the cascading waters will require strength and fortitude to navigate a course to the right path … and an ability to facilitate the consensus of those on board.

George DeLuca
ComeToLowell.com

updated April 7, 2014 at 3:40pm