Was the June 20 vote for the Cawley site a legal vote of the Lowell City Council?

George DeLuca
August 30, 2017

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Lowell City Councilor Dan Rourke

The Lowell School Committee is seeking a judgment in an attempt to overturn the June 20 vote of the Lowell City Council, which named the Cawley site as the location for the new high school. The vote was 5-4 in favor of the Cawley site. In all the city held public forums, including the 64 people who spoke the night of the vote, no one contested the legality of the vote.

To his credit, City Councilor Dan Rourke is concerned about lost time due to legal filings, court dates, etc. related to the school committee’s intent to file for a judgment. The city council has fought tooth and nail to preclude the possibility of any delay in the process and they must protect their interest in this matter.

The school committee and city council are two different boards that sometimes find themselves at odds with each other. So why would the city council file a court case to determine whether the council has the authority to determine the school’s location? The city council has already assumed the authority. They voted 5-4 on June 20 to locate the high school at the Cawley site. Again, to date no one has contested the legality of the vote.

Therefore, the real question is whether or not the June 20 vote was a legal. That separates the two boards who should pursue their own legal agendas separately.

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Mayor Edward Kennedy chairs opposing boards …

Should the city council secure a judgment that determines their vote to be legal in all respects, the MSBA should take that as good faith at the subsequent hearing and release the funding for the schematic design.

The only action required by the city council is to protect the integrity of their formal proceeding in the council chambers.

Note that the four nay voters on the city council have not argued the legality of the June 20 vote.

The city council should take exception to the frivolous shenanigans of the school committee and other politically motivated individuals, stand up for their integrity as a board, and fight for their executed vote to build a new high school at the Cawley site.

The Lowell Plan and the Lowell School Committee led the high school site selection process

Lowell, Massachusetts: a city on a journey down the rabbit hole …

George DeLuca
August 31, 2017

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We insist on the downtown location … council vote or not!

The Lowell School Committee is apparently questioning the legality of a city council vote conducted by Mayor Ed Kennedy on June 20 in the council chambers at city hall. A 5-4 vote determined the Cawley site to be the chosen location for the high school.

The school committee is now contending they haven’t had enough say in the site selection process … but the public record indicates otherwise.

A thorough review of the matter dating back to 2008 should be enough to clear the city council body of any voting indiscretions.

Since 2008, the school committee has been the leading influence in determining the future location of Lowell High School. However, members didn’t have an appetite for the Cawley site back then so they declined a proposal by the Lowell Plan to move the school out of downtown.

Lowell Plan Executive Director Jim Cook has since worked hard to ensure that the high school remains in the current downtown location. This commitment was cemented in 2010, when Cook hired “renown” urban planner Jeff Speck who spent that summer living in downtown Lowell, family in tow.

Speck’s commission produced a report entitled “The Lowell Downtown Evolution Plan,” a document that included a preliminary review and cursory analysis of suggested locations for a new Lowell High School.

Speck posited a scenario for renovation and expansion of the existing high school versus creating a new campus style complex at the Cawley site. Taken at face value, the report contains some significant errors and reflects the ambivalence of an urban planner torn between two possible solutions.

Nonetheless, Speck publicly endorsed the current location as good urban practice. But in fairness, his job was to appease Cook and his “blue ribbon” associates who were outspoken in their advocacy for the downtown location. In fact, Cook did not permit Speck to answer public inquiries about the report.

Fast forward to May 2013, when the school committee engaged OMR Architects of West Acton, Mass. to complete a master plan for Lowell’s twenty-nine schools k-12. Their work involved completing a comprehensive existing conditions study and facilities assessment at a cost of about $330,000.

In October 2013, OMR presented the downtown and Cawley options to the school committee facilities sub-committee and the full committee, who drove the process. Both committees promised public forums after the 2013 election and swearing-in ceremonies. However, school committee public forums never took place.

The private forums conducted during the OMR study involved school administrators, staff, maintenance personnel, teachers and students among other hand picked participants. Once the report was complete, the school committee turned its attention to funding the recommended improvements to the k-12 schools.

On March 19, 2014, the school committee, firmly behind the downtown option, voted to request state funding via the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) via “Statements of Interest (SOI)” for five citywide school projects as assembled by OMR. Although a high school project was included as one SOI, the document did not offer the Cawley option, only downtown.

To add fuel to the confusion, the school committee misinterpreted MSBA rules and were told by the authority the city could only submit one SOI. The k-8 projects would have to wait.

The MSBA submittal process also required city council approval of the school committee’s “Statement of Interest.” Confusion engulfed the city council chambers the night of the council vote. As a result, the deliberation was fractured and rushed.

Why wasn’t the council kept abreast of the year long effort of the school committee involving about a half-billion dollars in projects by today’s prices? To answer this question, perhaps it would help to shed more light by delving a little deeper into the history of the project.

Bolstered by the Speck report released in October 2010, Jim Cook continued to tout the current downtown site as the best location for the high school. Cook made a bizarre public declaration to that effect during an interview with the Lowell Sun published on August 4, 2013 while the OMR study was in progress.

In a report dated November 13, 2013 and presented to the school committee, OMR provided a cost analysis of alternative sites for the high school including the current downtown location, the Cawley site and the South Common site.

OMR’s downtown option had a project cost of $245 million, $45 million cheaper than the projection for the Cawley site, which was $290 million. Was this wishful thinking?

OMR’s projected project cost for the downtown option was close to $100 million cheaper than the Skanska/Perkins-Eastman (the city’s OPM) projection. In fact, the OPM fleshed out Cawley vs. Option 3 to close to even, with various unknowns affecting both sites still to be sorted-out.

With all that said, there’s a glaring question that you may have picked up on: Who gave Jim Cook the authority to guarantee the current high school site location?

Cook said that he had preliminary discussions with both MA Senator Eileen Donaghue and U. S. Representative Niki Tsongas’s regional director Brian Martin, who had by then been awarded the position of Lowell High School headmaster as the uncontested lone finalist. But again, who was giving the orders?

On March 24, 2014, former Deputy Superintendent of Lowell Public Schools Jay Lang provided an explanation of the school committee’s (misguided) March 19 vote to submit five school projects to the MSBA. This faux-pas required a redo the following week. Meanwhile, the false information was relayed to the city council, adding to the confusion.

At the April 2, 2014 meeting of the school committee, David Conway corrected Lang’s comments about the five SOIs and the school committee voted to choose the high school project involving the downtown location as their sole SOI to the MSBA.

Next stop was to the city council for a vote on April 8, 2014. A sense of urgency was then laid on the city council because the SOI was due by the April 11 deadline, so the city council obliged the school committee with a unanimous yea vote to avoid a mandatory year wait for the next opportunity to file.

Much of the confusion experienced by the city council that night can be attributed to the school committee’s lack of understanding of the MSBA process up to that point and Lang’s presentation of false information to the council on March 24.

Lang also told the council the city could expect an 80% reimbursement rate on a $245 million high school  project at the current location. This was a convincing argument and a primary impetus for the council to go forward.

Lang’s letter verifies that, on March 24, neither he nor the school committee members knew that the MSBA would not accept a multiple project application. As a result, the school committee selected the renovations/additions to the high school in its current location as the preferred project. The submittal was corrected for the hand-off to the city council for a vote.

In essence, the city council voted to approve the school committee’s preferred option of the downtown site on the basis of trust. Ironically, the Cawley site plan was developed because of the MSBA requirement to also submit a “new” construction site if possible.

The city council basically rubber stamped the school committee’s “Statement of Interest” and newly hired City Manager Kevin Murphy had it forwarded to the MSBA!

The school committee drove the bus on the “preferred option” which was downtown. The city council didn’t really know what it was approving because the OMR report contained over 3000 pages and they had less than a week to vote on the school committee’s revised “Statement of Interest.”

The process got mired down in the missteps of the school committee and the school administration. Regardless, the city council approved the recommendation of the school committee unanimously and with very little knowledge of what was in the OMR report.

Subsequently, upon receiving a green light from the MSBA, the city hired Skanska USA Building consulting as the Owner’s Project Manager and Perkins Eastman|DPC as the Architect/Project Management team to complete the preliminary studies phase including the feasibility study while following the MSBA process.

The Cawley and others sites, were brought in to satisfy the MSBA requirement for a new construction alternative. The city council worked hard to keep up with the whirlwind process and managed to meet all the requirements set forth by the MSBA.

The Cawley site, and others, were presented to the School Building Committee, a panel of public officials formed to oversee the design process for the city. The School Building Committee voted on a shortlist of four options. The four options sent to the MSBA on May 18, 2017 included three downtown options and the Cawley site.

Jim Cook’s public posturing and rhetoric ebbed then ceased after Kevin Murphy became city manager. But the Lowell Plan director was selected to be a member of the School Building Committee.

A couple of days before the city council vote, the School Building Committee voted on a “Preferred Option.” That vote resulted in a tie between Option 3 (9 votes) and the Cawley site (9 votes). Their verdict was reported to the city council.

By June 20, the city council was ready to move on to the Schematic Design phase.

Few expected the Cawley site to be the final selection of the city council until it actually happened on June 20. After 64 members of the public delivered their thoughts and preferences in the council chambers, the council voted on the Cawley site, the five story option.

Before the Lowell elections in 2013, I interviewed several candidates about their vision for the future of City of Lowell. I asked city council candidate Jim Milinazzo why Jim Cook had so much power over the city relative to the high school issue. Milinazzo replied, “George, you’re giving him too much credit.” I interpreted this to mean that Cook was only following orders. But whose orders was he following and why? An official explanation from the Lowell Plan is still in order.

Other questions remain unanswered about the determination of the high school location. But one fact is clear. The Lowell School Committee has had a say from day one. In fact, their efforts can be credited as the driving factor that led to the ultimate decision of the Lowell City Council to locate the high school at the Cawley site using a fair and transparent process that was meticulously executed.

Apparently, the process was flawed from the very beginning long before the city council did their job.

In essence, the school committee has accused the city council of conducting an illegal vote. A thorough investigation may be the best way to completely vindicate the city council at this point.

And the public record will not only support the council’s position if such an inquiry is started, it may also incriminate several high ranking officials who have tried to control the process for several years running. No one wants this to happen but time is of the essence and the project must not be delayed any further. The council has voted and damages are accruing.

Additional questions:

What’s the status of OMR’s 10-year Capital Plan for Lowell’s schools?

With construction prices constantly on the rise, what ever happened to plans to pursue funding for needed improvements and additions to the k-8 schools?

Is Warren Shaw “a dog” in the LHS fight?

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Lowell City Councilor Rita Mercier: “A legal vote on the location of the high school has been taken.”

By George DeLuca
August 28, 2017

A local political analyst continues to press the discussion about where Lowell High School should be located. But how do you interpret an argument that begins with the phrase, “I don’t have a dog in the fight, BUT … “?

Is Dracut resident and 980WCAP radio celebrity Warren Shaw expressing his own opinion or using his radio pulpit to help advance the agenda of a secret party or parties?

Shaw is yet another outspoken advocate for keeping Lowell High School in its current location.

As a guest on Shaw’s Saturday Morning Show, Lowell City Councilor Rita Mercier said the City Council has performed its due diligence and has meticulously followed the formal process required by the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA). As a result, the council has executed a legal vote on the issue and has decided to move Lowell High School to the Cawley Stadium site. Mercier objects to current efforts to change the ruling.

Mercier challenged Shaw on his contention that he doesn’t “have a dog in the fight,” by reminding him of his past statement, “When all is said and done, the high school will remain downtown.”

Shaw immediately admitted that he was merely parroting the position of an undisclosed party, but refused to provide the identity of the subject on the radio.

Shaw may not have a dog in the fight, but could he BE a dog in the fight? And if so … whose dog?

A Lowell City Council vote faces a SCOFF

The ultimate Lowell bag job plays out …

By George DeLuca
August 24, 2017

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Mayor of anti-Cawley Belvidere?

Looking out into the political weeds, you can see anti-Cawley/pro-downtown proponents gaining strength as they continue to mobilize.

The entirety of Lowell’s political establishment, minus two school committee members and five city councilors, are gearing up to turn the June 20 city council vote, bolstered by a lawsuit and a unilateral referendum designed to keep the high school out of a Lowell neighborhood.

The MSBA vote yesterday was a stunning victory indeed. This coup would not have been possible without Lowell’s ceremonial Mayor Edward Kennedy entrenched on one side of the issue and joined at the hip with the so-called “save Lowell High School” crowd, a name that drips with irony. Nor would it be possible without the support of MA Senator Donaghue and U. S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, the legal mentorship of Lowell attorney Michael Gallagher, the constituent services of MA Rep. David Nangle, and the bizarre but effective assistance of MA Rep. Cory Atkins.

In short, the deck is firmly stacked against the “Cawley Dream” and always has been since the Lowell Plan engaged a hired-gun urban planner named Jeff Speck over seven years ago to “suggest” that the current downtown site is the only suitable location for the high school.

Can the “Cawley Dream” stay alive with the overarching power of Lowell’s political establishment now crashing down in a concerted effort to overcome a legal city council vote?

Expect further shenanigans and obstructionism designed to waylay the June 20 vote before November. This is a “take-no-prisoners” initiative by a political force intent on stopping the “Cawley Dream” from happening.

Since 2010, the intent of this force has always been to keep the high school out of Belvidere. Rest assured however, that the meaning and sanctity of a Lowell City Council vote will be defined and clarified for all to see.

History is in the making. You are witnessing the culmination of the ultimate Lowell bag job!

Move LHS to Cawley and revitalize downtown Lowell

By George DeLuca
June 20, 2017

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Lowell parents want the “ideal educational environment” for their children.

The following is my speech advocating for the “ideal educational environment” for the students, and, a viable economic development plan to revitalize downtown Lowell:

“You’ll notice that the signs ‘LHS Yes for Cawley’ don’t identify the bearers as parents of children affected by the decision you’re about to make tonight. But that’s who they are … they’re the parents of the affected children and their supporters. I’m one of those supporters. But I’m here tonight to speak to a broader range of issues.

We need a new high school in Lowell and we need a solid vision for economic development. Moving the high school to the Cawley site will allow the city to achieve both objectives, while clearing a major logjam that prevents economic growth.

UMass Lowell abuts the high school at the Tsongas Center. On the other side of the high school is downtown proper, Merrimack St. and Market St. On the other side of downtown proper is the Hamilton Canal Innovation District. These four segments of downtown are shielded from each other and do not interconnect or help each other in any significant way. In effect, they’re isolated operations that stagnate growth in downtown Lowell.

To improve flow and circulation, extract the high school operation from the downtown, and relocate it to the Cawley site. Then expand the Hamilton Canal Innovation District to include the vacated high school property.

UMass Lowell will then have a physical connection to the Hamilton Canal Innovation District at Arcand Drive, facilitating the creation of one unified concept for downtown and solving the incompatibility problem.

This operation will permit a natural flow between UMass Lowell and the expanded enterprise zone that will extend to and include downtown proper via Lucy Larcom Park and then along the Merrimack Canal to Hamilton Canal.

This new flow pattern will lead to the revitalization of the entire downtown, while offering new and expanded amenities for all to enjoy, as we render support for incubating business enterprises and make room for their spin-off manufacturing operations.

I believe the high school should be built at Cawley so downtown Lowell can enter a phase of revitalization and deliver a renewed vitality not experienced in the mill city since the 1960s.

This dynamic change will lead to rising property values across the city, growth of the tax base, and the creation of jobs made possible by the education and training programs offered by MCC and UML. Downtown growth and the proposed revitalization will benefit the entire city.

The new high school at Cawley and the expanded Hamilton Canal Innovation District will fuel these advances and help make Lowell a desired community for workers, visitors, students, residents and business owners.

The high school must be moved to provide the “ideal educational environment” for the students, and, the opportunity to revitalize downtown fueled by an expanded Hamilton Canal Innovation District including the vacated high school property.

We need a new high school. But we also need economic development, rising property values, and a flourishing tax base which will only be possible if we move the high school, expand the Hamilton Canal Innovation District and revitalize downtown.

We have an opportunity to unify the city and we need your leadership to make this happen. Make this decision the beginning of an exciting new era for ALL Lowellians. Thank you.”

Former Mayor Bud Caulfield supports Cawley Campus, delivers sage advice to Lowell City Council

By George DeLuca
June 7, 2017

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Bud Caulfield

 

On June 6, former Lowell Mayor Bud Caulfield expressed his support of Cawley Campus in an interview with 980WCAP radio host Teddy Panos.

Special thanks to Teddy Panos and 980WCAP where “Everybody gets it!”

Here’s Bud:

 

Zen and the art of wok cooking

By George DeLuca
May 1, 2017

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Fujianese-Style Stir-Fried Fish

New Year’s Day came and went and by January 3 my resolution to modify and upgrade my eating habits was by the cupboards.

Then one day, I’m reading a novel about two lovers named Anabel and Tom who decide to buy a wok – as if wok cooking offers a Zen-like experience that will enhance your life and existence on planet Earth – and I have an epiphany.

According to http://www.zen-buddhism.net, “Zen is the experience of living from moment to moment, in the here and now.” After a brief contemplation of what wok cooking brings to the table, including the combined efficacy of meditation and sustenance, I decide to give it a try.

Within fifteen minutes my brand-new triple coated, non-stick, flat bottomed 12” Calpholon wok with glass cover is en route, along with a roadmap to culinary delight called “Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge” by Grace Young.

Thanks to Google and Amazon the new kit arrives within four days, and suddenly my path to enlightenment includes achieving cooking nirvana.

So, my sparkling new wok is unpacked and prepped with a little warm water and dish detergent. There it is … on the stove and ready to go … and so … empty.

During a quick browse of the cookbook, I examine some basic stir-fry recipes along with the guidelines to preparation, and thus I enter the world of wok cooking.

Let’s see, there’s “Spicy Orange Chicken,” “Stir-Fried Ginger Tomato Beef,” “Stir-Fried Salmon with Wine Sauce” … hmm … ok, let’s start with those!

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One shopping spree goes a long way

Upon further review, I find that many ingredients are used repetitively and cover a wide-spectrum of delectable desires and gluten-free gastronomies.

Exotic items like peanut oil, ginger, rice wine, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil and black bean garlic sauce go on the shopping list along with various essentials like vegetables, rice and pasta. Next stop, Market Basket.

What’s that? Market Basket doesn’t have everything on the list? The good news is that the Market Basket on Broadway Street in Lowell has an aisle devoted to Asian cooking supplies and ingredients.

As for items Market Basket doesn’t carry; no need to scour websites of the orient. There’s a Southeast Asian food store on Merrimack Street called Ocean Garden Market. As you walk through the entrance, you feel like you’ve been transported through space and time to a rustic food store in Phenom Penh, Cambodia.

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Fujianese Cod on a bed of angel-hair pasta

Ok, so now I’m ready to test drive my new wok with the glass cover and have all the basic ingredients for “Fujianese Cod with green beans, green pepper and red onion.” Grace Young … lead me to the promise land!

Within the first week, I cooked the four previously mentioned dishes and discovered that wok cooking is healthy, tasty, fast and easy.

You also save money on food, supplies and condiments, all of which can be reused, mixed and matched to serve your preferred textures and tastes. Soon you will be experimenting with recipe ideas of your own.

One potential drawback is that the dishes and mixing bowls tend to pile up during preparation. But if you move quickly, you may find that the work is manageable, fun and maybe even relaxing.

Here are some additional tips: if it comes in a glass bottle – put it in the fridge after opening. Oh, and in case you’re wondering – cooking wine is not for drinking.

As for the “fast and easy” part – once accustomed to stir-fry technique you may become an aficionado of wok cooking as you season your trail of life with a little Zen.