By Seth Daniel
The Pioneer Charter School of Science announced at the Planning Board on Monday its intention to expand, and to move from Summer Street in central Everett to Plymouth Street in the Village neighborhood – an announcement that invited a clashing of wills between the board and the school representatives.
Sanela Jonuz, executive director of Pioneer, appeared with attorney Dan O’Neil to inform the Planning Board of their intentions, but as the conversation continued, it didn’t go so well.
First off, the major news was that the longtime Charter School intended to move from Summer Street at the old Immaculate Conception School to a new location at the former Teleflex Medical building on Plymouth Street in the Village. The school has been on Summer Street for 10 years.
“They are in the process of executing a lease with the owner of 7-9 Plymouth Street, which is the old Teleflex facility,” said O’Neil. “They plan the construction of a new K-8 school in the existing footprint with no expansion of density, yard size, parking, setbacks or any other of the items like that…The work is proceeding down there. They received a demolition permit and demolition is complete…They are ready to submit the building plan to the City and ready to move on.”
Jonuz said they have about 360 students at the Summer Street location, and planned to ramp up enrollment to 540 students over the next two years once they are at the new site. The hours would be from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and there would be three or four buses, with most kids walking or being dropped off. A majority of the students at Pioneer are from Everett, but the school also pulls many from neighboring communities, too.
O’Neil specified that there were no parking spots being eliminated, and there would be no queuing of buses on the streets, and no need for zoning relief as well. He said they had appeared before the board to request a waiver of Site Plan Review, “which they are entitled to.”
He specified that under the Dover Amendment, the City did not have the right to review the project, but they had come out of good faith with their parking and bus plan to share with the Board before getting the waiver.
That’s where things got dicey.
Acting Chair Leo Pizzano Jr. asserted that the Board had the right to review parking, and he wasn’t certain that the school had the right to a waiver.
City Planners weren’t too convinced either, saying that perhaps a public review with more people from the neighborhood under life safety provisions would be appropriate.
Pizzano also breached a touchy subject with the charter – which is at times at odds with the public schools – regarding whether Everett Public School Supt. Fred Foresteire had reviewed the plan.
“This may not make a lot of people happy, but did this plan go through Mr. Foresteire first?” he asked.
“That question is precisely why the Dover Amendment exists,” retorted O’Neil. “That question, ‘Did this go through Mr. Foresteire?’ is inappropriate. I’m very shocked the Board posed that question in a (Dover Amendment) appeal.”
Said Pizzano, “Did this go through Mr. Foresteire, yes or no?”
O’Neil said the question was inappropriate and should probably be removed from the record, but Pizzano declined to do so.
“The Dover Amendment exists so that superintendents of public school districts do not get asked,” said O’Neil, citing a ruling by the attorney general saying municipalities cannot request site plan review in such a situation.
Tensions were high in the room, and school officials were frustrated by the pushback.
Planning Board members were also frustrated from not being able to review the project to foresee problems in what is a very cramped neighborhood. In the end, the law seemed to be on the side of Pioneer.
“Even if people were to come up and complain, it comes to nothing,” said Pizzano. “It’s an unfortunate situation…They have us. We have to do it.”
In the end, the Board voted 4-0 to grant the waiver, but some are still concerned.
Councilor Michael McLaughlin, who represents the Village, said that while there might not be any official review, he has concerns about the school project and hopes there could be a community meeting as few know anything about it.
“I am very alarmed by that amount of children going into such a cramped area, especially in the Village,” he said. “The streets are very small and compact as it is and now we’ll have 500-plus students coming and going there twice a day. That’s alarming. I also am a bit insulted that no one has brought it to my attention. I’ve never seen any plans or anything.”