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

Image

Has Lowell High School become the neighborhood bully? Ask Lowell Professional Center 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 Center business owner.

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

Where do we fit into the plan?

Where does Lowell 5 fit into the plan?

Abutters at the Lowell 5 Bank and the Lowell Professional Center 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 now that there will be no public hearings required by the City as the Statements of Interest have already been forwarded to the Mass. School Building Authority (MSBA).

Public outreach has been bypassed in the haste by the Lowell School Committee to get the High School renovation and expansion project in front of the MSBA before the City Council knew what it was voting on. However, they did take a token vote in support of whatever the School Committee had decided.

I have to admit that 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.

September 21 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 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.”

Based on Kim’s promises, I did speak at the School Committee Facility Subcommittee meeting, and, the subsequent School Committee meeting. At these meetings I praised both committees for their correct approach to community outreach (believing what Kim said).

I was assured at these meetings that nothing would decided without public forums with residents and stakeholders of the City of Lowell. These public forums never happened, and ultimately both the School Committee and the City Council voted unanimously to accept Jean Franco’s recommendation that Lowell High School renovation and expansion project would be the priority.

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. 

350-Bus_Center_3

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

I remember City Councilor Rita Mercier approaching me at one of the City Council Candidates forum expressing concern about the consideration of the High School being moved to Cawley Stadium (the current site most worthy of a feasibility study). She said she couldn’t support it due to abutters concerns.

350_Lowell_5

Unrepresented after 100 years of service?

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 here either.

Downtown Lowell businesses are feeling kept out of the loop …

Image

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
________________________
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.

Image

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!

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.

350_Corey_Belanger

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

Lowell Plan wins round 1 – School Committee confirms ‘city’s wish’ that Lowell High School remains downtown.

Image

Was the Lowell City Council caught unprepared & ill advised?

Congratulations to the Lowell Plan for its monumental win last night at the Lowell School Committee meeting. Evidently, Jim Cook was successful in working behind the scenes to get Lowell’s state and federal delegation, the City Council, the School Committee and the Lowell Public School administration on board with the Lowell Plan’s mandate to keep Lowell High School downtown.

The result? Belvidere NIMBY’s can stop worrying about the High School moving to the Cawley Stadium area … at least for the time being.

The discussion and subsequent vote at last night’s School Committee meeting confirmed the “City’s” interest in proceeding with renovating and rebuilding Lowell High School at its present location in downtown Lowell, while forgoing the capital improvement needs of the middle and elementary schools until next year’s round of state funding becomes available. Thus far, the process has been handled in true riverboat gambler style as is the trademark of the Lowell political establishment dating back to the 1980s.

As noted by School Committeeman Dave Conway, “we need to look at what happened 30 years ago, and be sure that what we do is done properly.” Mr. Conway is referring to all the school buildings along Arcand Drive that Mr. Speck determined to be functionally obsolete and must now be torn down for the new plan to be implemented. So what does “make sure it’s done properly this time” suggest? The process being executed now is “… deja vu all over again.” as Yogi Berra once said. Oh, well its just millions in taxpayer dollars down the drain. There’s plenty more where that came from. Forge on!

So much for accountability.

Perhaps School Committeeman Steve Gendron summed it up best when he said, “We need all 5 projects to proceed simultaneously, but because of Mass. School Building Authority (MSBA) rules, we can’t bundle them all into one project. The City must put forth the project that’s most likely to win.” Oops!

Gendron continued, “The High School pops out as the facility that will gain acceptance from the MSBA.” This means that the High School project will bring the most money to the city based on a formula that calculates that (with MSBA approval) the state would pay about 80% of the $245 million price tag for the Jeff Speck version option #1D, as roughly sketched in his Downtown Evolution Plan report to the Lowell Plan completed in October of 2010.

Option #1D of the report outlines Speck’s proposed process of renovating and rebuilding the current high school in its present location. The Lowell coalition hopes this approach will net the City the most money of the k-12 funding applications. However, please note that the Jeff Speck report was never formally considered or approved by the City Council. Perhaps this is because of the difficulty explaining how a nebulous private agency succeeded in gaining unilateral control of the City of Lowell’s “evolution” going forward.

Of course, the MSBA has plenty to say about how the $500 million allocation in their control is spent. So even though the OMR Architects 3,000 page study and the show of solidarity by the City’s political institution will carry weight, the MSBA will come out late summer or early fall to review the City’s recommendations on-site and form their own impression.

It’s interesting that the OMR Architects final report doesn’t satisfactorily explain the MSBA process to the School Committee. Doesn’t their contract include guidance for working with the MSBA? Wasn’t OMR paid $300k for their services? The hand-off to MSBA is no place to cut corners.

As Gendron noted, “The MSBA will shepherd us down the path, recommending solutions to the problems we’ve presented.” Of course, Mr. Gendron envisions a gallant army on white horses will come to the rescue and sort out all of Lowell’s problems. No really, he does.

Fellow Committeeman Dave Conway noted, “I also attended the meeting with MSBA officials in Boston, and there was some confusion that was cleared up about what we can and can’t do. But I agree with the recommendations of the Superintendent.” (that the HS should be renovated in place and not moved)

Conway was referring to the confusion that wafted over 2 recent City Council meetings when School Dept. Deputy Director Jay Lang made statements that were in fact not true. The City Council voted at the first meeting based on bad information about the process provided by Lang. These discussions are available for viewing at LTC.org so I won’t reiterate here. If you look at the video, note City Councilor Corey Belanger’s reaction during the second meeting’s discussion. Also note Councilor Kennedy’s confusion about what’s being discussed. Also note, in the first meeting, Rita Mercier’s comment that “It’s probably time for the City’s Facilities Subcommittee to review the situation.” even as the horse leaving the barn is passed by the cart.

Pursuant to the above paragraph, note Mr. Lang’s own confusion as recently as March 24, when he offered his flawed explanation of the process to Lowell2020. As a result, the delegation jumped aboard, and the City Council unanimously voted “yea” after asking the right questions, then receiving false information.

Although community and downtown stakeholder forums, originally promised for last November, are now being pushed to the fall when the MSBA comes to Lowell, it’s not expected the “move the high school” movement will gain any more traction than it has now. But you never know, perhaps there are powerful advocates biding their time. The School Committee is hoping otherwise, and have gone “all in” while praying for a straight flush.

A couple of possibilities were discussed at last night’s meeting. There was disappointment about the misunderstanding about bundling all 5 projects involving k-12 so that all schools could proceed on a fast track simultaneously. But school committee members seemed to take solace in the role of the MSBA to find solutions to the City’s problems by saying, “we’re just throwing this out there.” From my experience working in the public sector, it usually doesn’t work that way. The state is highly astute in identifying a City consortium’s end around run to get the money flowing quickly. The loss of Kevin Murphy as a State Rep. weakens the delegation, which could also prove to be problematic. So Lowell is facing stormy waters throughout a process that will likely take several years to sort out.

It’s possible that the outcome of Round 1 could result in MSBA rejecting the high school proposal entirely, to focus on the more crucial needs of the middle schools as preferred by Councilor Kennedy. Or, they could offer to approve a combination of solutions that may or may not involve the high school. So as Jay Lang has stated rather weakly, ” … its early in the process.”

As for Lowell’s downtown economic development strategy … it’s taking a significant hit. It’d be unseemly for this unanimously joined Lowell coalition to say to the MSBA in September, “We’ve changed our minds. We’ve decided our priority is to move the high school out of downtown.” That would expose a great weakness in our political system … one that in fact DOES exist.

Stay tuned for Round 2 in the fall. Here’s a message to Lowell’s political establishment. In the words of Oliver Hardy, “This is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.”

George DeLuca
ComeToLowell.com

_______________________________
Other related posts:

How much power does Jim Cook have in Lowell? Is the Lowell High School capital plan a done deal?

Open Letter to the Lowell School Committee

Lowell business leaders: “Move Lowell High School!”

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

Updated April 3, 2014 at 5:43pm

Kevin Murphy named Lowell City Manager in 8-1 vote*

Image

Lowell2020 wishes new Lowell City Manager Kevin Murphy best of luck in what could turn out to be the most challenging job in the history of the position.

I could elaborate on my thoughts for several pages, but will be concise without reiterating.  Those who follow this blog know the most difficult decisions facing Kevin. To capsulize, it’s going to be impossible for City Manager Murphy to keep the promises he made to several City Councilors during his interview. Specifically, there is no way to reinvigorate downtown AND make the Lowell Plan happy.

Unless the Lowell Plan reconsiders its posture on reconstructing Lowell High School in place vs. revitalizing Downtown Lowell, he’s going to run into deep trouble quickly. Again, its impossible to do both.

With Lowell School Committee members openly carrying water for the Lowell Plan, and the City Council blindly supporting their efforts, the chances of planning and implementing a successful economic development strategy downtown may be little to none.

I wish Kevin the best of luck and hope that he’s successful in serving the 106,000 plus who live in the City of Lowell, and, the City’s stakeholders as well. Outlook: Stormy waters ahead.

George DeLuca
ComeToLowell.com

Editor’s Notes:

Salary to be determined and start date reserved once the Solicitor and Mayor meet with the new City Manager. Results of this discussion will be reported at the April 8 meeting of the City Council.

*After the vote, John Leahy changed his vote to Kevin Murphy to make it unanimous.