As a lead up to the upcoming Mayoral election, the first in Everett’s history that will give the Mayor a four-year term, The Everett Independent has engaged the two candidates for Mayor – Incumbent Mayor Carlo DeMaria and Alderman Robert Van Campen – with a series of questions about their ideas for leading the city over the next four years. This is a weekly mini-debate unfolding in the pages of our paper. The fourth question in our series is about redevelopment of the former high school building on Broadway.
Following the question are the written answers provided to us by the candidates. The Independent has made no material changes to the content of these answers and we have asked the candidates to keep their answers to 300 words, though both candidates went over that threshold this week.
We hope this brief series of questions over the next few weeks helps you make your decision, if you have not already done so
What do you think is the best use of the former high school building and what would you do over the next four years to see the building revitalized and contributing positively to the local economy and community at-large?
Alderman Robert Van Campen
The former high school building on Broadway stands as a glaring example of the lack of new growth in this city for the past six years. The incumbent Mayor’s inability to formulate a plan for new growth and economic development has resulted in increases in the tax rates for both residential property owners and business owners alike. Business owners in Everett currently pay the highest commercial tax rate in Massachusetts.
I have served as a member of the high school reuse committee and I have consistently pushed to define the city’s goals for this property before issuing any Request for Proposals. While we have to be especially mindful of the rights of neighbors who live in the area when we look for a possible re-use of the site, there is no excuse for six years of inaction.
There are certainly development alternatives and we don’t have to look very far to see them. When the old Lafayette School building was declared surplus, the City responded by developing an entire new neighborhood on the site. The former high school building, with its frontage on Broadway, appears to be ideal for a mixed retail and residential use.
Residential use of an existing school building has been done and done successfully. The former Lewis School building was converted to condominiums when it was retired. The former Medford High School building, which was built in 1894, was converted to condos way back in 1984.
I would also investigate the possibility of developing an assisted living facility at the former high school site. This is a win-win situation for the city. First, we can address a need for senior housing in the city. In addition, we can provide a place for our friends and neighbors who have lived here all of their lives and wish to remain in Everett. And the site would be renovated and added to the tax rolls.
Any development of the former high school building requires a Mayor that can actually bring new growth to Everett.
Mayor Carlo DeMaria Jr.
The old High School is truly a hidden gem for the City of Everett. The building already contributes positively to the community today, and I’m proud of the programming that we are seeing in the facility. The facility brings value to the City both in services and revenue- the Boys and Girls Club administer a successful club that services over a hundred Everett youths; Everett Crimson Tide Pop Warner runs their cheering program in the facility; we are currently renting out to a charter school and a movie production, and through those two rentals alone, we are bringing $100,000 to the City, plus the costs of using the facility.
Over the past few years, we have done visioning for the site, commissioned reports and gone through two requests for proposals. Together, we have done our diligence to find the best use for the old high school. Through the process, we have set clear goals for what we would like to see on that site– added commercial space, a housing component, a new municipal center to replace our aging and outdated City Hall while preserving the Rockwood Auditorium and Field House for use by residents. Overall our goal was simple: accentuate the positives of that facility while adding value to our community. That is something we will not compromise on.
The committee hasn’t yet found the proposal that will work best for the city. I respect that. I’m willing to wait for the right developer with the right plan because I don’t want to rush into a decision that isn’t right for the City. Elected officials, residents and city employees sit on this committee and review the proposals and make suggestions on next steps.
To me, it would be a sin to lose a great facility like the field house or to pick a development that doesn’t work for Everett or to sell the property right when the market is improving. To me, it would be best to plan, to wait and to work collaboratively to find what best for us all.