By Cary Shuman
For the Independent
Mayor Carlo DeMaria will ask the Board of Aldermen on Monday night for its permission to declare the old Everett High School building at 548 Broadway as surplus property and put the property out to bid.
The mayor’s action follows a community meeting that was held last Wednesday night at Rockwood Auditorium inside the old high school. DeMaria, Chief Procurement Officer Jill Barringer, Director of Community Development, and consultant John Connery of John Connery and Associates held the meeting to hear feedback from neighbors about the best possible reuse of the site.
The city took over ownership of the building last July. Interest in the property has been marginal at best. Last fall the city received no responses to its request for inquiries (RFI) about the building while there were six responses in February to a second RFI by the city.
The mayor presided over the community meeting, telling residents at the outset, “We want you to tell us your feelings about the old high school. My intention was to come before you with some formal plans but the will of the elected officials was to hold this meeting before that. We’re here to hear from you what you’d like to see at 548 Broadway.”
Leo Pizzano, a Linden Street resident for 37 years, said he would like to see the field house and auditorium torn down and the area have five or six single-family houses, parking, and green space. He told the Mayor that he would also like to see the old high school building converted into subsidized housing for the elderly, “with the citizens of Everett given the first chance to occupy them or convert them into assisted living apartments.”
Pizzano also requested that the Mayor consider forming a committee of neighbors and concerned citizens to act “a voice of the people” in respect to the property and its future use.
“The function of the committee will be to interact with the Mayor on all matters concerning the old high school project from the RFP to the awarding of the contract, and as a representative of the people, ensuring that our ideas and concerns are not forgotten or overlooked for the duration of the project,” said Pizzano.
Alderman Robert Van Campen said he was aware that the city had sent out an RFI on the property and he then asked the Mayor, “For these folks, so they understand it, who is interested in this building today?”
Connery, the consultant to the Planning Department for the project, fielded Van Campen’s question.
Connery said there was a charter school (Pioneer Charter School) that was interested in using a part of the building and a college (Fisher College) that was interested in “providing services for students in Everett” in a section of the building. But Connery said that the building might be too large for use by the charter school or college.
“There were people who were interested in building senior housing, affordable housing, and multi-family housing,” said Connery. “There was no one interested in building single-family or two-family housing or strip commercial or anything like that. There is no condominium market, to be quite honest, or at least no one has contacted me about that.”
Connery said the main issue confronting the city is that the building requires $400,000 a year to maintain. The Mayor later added that the city is spending an additional $75,000 for insurance for the building.
Members of the Boys and Girls Club, an organization that currently uses the old EHS field house as its site, expressed the hope that the club be allowed to continue to use the space for after school activities such as basketball.
DeMaria praised Boys and Girls Club officials for helping provide programs for Everett youths and said that were no immediate plans that would affect the club’s current location.
Alderman Mike Marchese went to the heart of the matter, asking Connery some direct questions about the property. “What would it cost to rehab a building like this. How many classrooms are in this building actually – if we were to rehab it and make it a school or an apartment complex?”
Connery replied that he didn’t know the number of classrooms, but that the site’s future use for a school would be unlikely.
Marchese later asked what the cost would be to tear down the building. “Honestly I am not qualified to answer that question,” said Connery.
Barbara Collins, who represented the ward in city government for 18 years, asked about any potential plans for cooperative housing on the property.
Connery said that an organization, Neighborhood of Affordable Housing [NOAH] has looked at the property for the purpose of cooperative housing.
Collins deduced that there is significant interest in the community about how the city intends to use the property.
“Once in awhile I still get a call from residents and I don’t mind – this is my city and I love it, this is my school and I love it,” said Collins. “In your future planning, I hope you’ll consider a small parcel of land for off-street parking for the residents in the neighborhood.”
Connery said he expects interest among potential developers of the property to grow once the request for proposals process begins.