DeMaria Looks For Other Options After Council’s ‘No’ Vote On Repairs at Old EHS

Mayor Carlo DeMaria patiently answered every question from city councillors about the roof repairs that he felt were desperately needed for the old Everett High School during Monday’s Council meeting.

DeMaria brought in Planning and Development Director Matt Lattanzi who masterfully provided charts and spoke comprehensively to the Council while comparing the current uses, school space, and repair costs of the old Everett High School building ($11.4 million) versus the Pope John High School building ($31.3 million).

But after a lengthy debate, the City Council voted by a 6-5 margin (the measure needed a super-majority of eight votes for passage) to deny Mayor DeMaria’s request for an $11.4 million appropriation for the roof repairs.

Councillors Guerline Alcy Jabouin, Michael Marchese, Peter Pietrantonio, Katy Rogers, Stephanie Smith, and Robert Van Campen voted against the request for repairs to the old EHS building. Councillors Anthony DiPierro, Holly Garcia, John Hanlon, Stephanie Martins, and Wayne Matewsky voted for the request for repairs.

DeMaria said Tuesday that he would continue to work toward a plan to keep the building up and running for the programs that currently use the building: Webster School Extension (for 3-and-4-year old pre-K students), Eliot Family Services, the health and wellness center (approximately 7,000 members), and the Broadway Boxing Club that Dennis Willcox has turned into a regional model for youth boxing gyms.

“I am going to continue to advocate for a path forward to continue to provide for the hundreds of students and the thousands of families that rely upon the former Everett high school building each year for educational, health and wellness, and critical human and social services,” said Mayor DeMaria. “I am confident that I will be able to work with President Van Campen to find a proposal suitable to the members of the City Council to preserve the current significant public uses of this asset while also exploring partnerships with entities that will use private funds for a more extensive redevelopment of the site that will preserve community access.”

Councilor-at-Large Katy Rogers set the tone for the debate and the eventual vote when she said early on that she could not support the request for the $11.4 appropriation without “a concrete plan” also being presented about repairs to other portions of the  building, including a potential $2.5 million request for renovations to the second floor (26 classrooms) to alleviate some of the overcrowding in the Everett schools.

“I do support the programs,” said Rogers. “However, the proposal before us tonight is for $11.4 million exclusively for the roof. We’re talking about $2.5 in a hypothetical context for preserving the second floor, and for me to instill the confidence in my vote, I really need a concrete plan. I would be more confident taking out $15 million with the insurance that I know we’re getting more classroom sizes for public use. I also think that the $2.5 million is less than what I anticipate it would cost to restore [the second floor].”

Council President Robert Van Campen,) said he was in the “Katy Rogers Camp” on the issue, articulating that “there’s too much uncertainty for us to be able to say convincingly tonight, ‘let’s just go forward and put a roof on the building.’’’

“I think we needed to have much more detail about [the plan for the building],” said Van Campen. “If we’re going to reprogram the second floor, [I want to see] more detail.”

Stating he was “not in favor of the city selling the building,” Ward 1 Councilor Wayne Matewsky reasoned that the repair of the second and third floors of the building could solve the overcrowding issue in the school district.

“This solves the problem, doesn’t it, if we do the second and third floors – it sounds like a great deal for me,” said Matewsky.

DeMaria agreed that renovations to the second and third floors and the addition of classroom space “would definitely solve some problems, but I think it’s going to more than $2.5 million if we bring in more grades that require cafeteria services and gymnasiums. It’s going to be more complex.”

Councilor-at-Large Stephanie Smith agreed with Rogers’ summation that a concrete plan was needed to fully address the issue. “But to me, it’s an even broader conversation than what Councilor Rogers said. It’s not just a master plan of Everett High School. It’s a master plan for all the city buildings. In the two-and-a-half years that I’ve been here, we’ve asked for $7.5 million for the Armory, $8 million for the roof and boiler in Everett High in 2023, $10 million for the police station, $1.5 million in 2022 for the roof at the old Everett High, $1.5 million at the Parlin for the ADA, $10 million for Everett Stadium. We need a full master plan for all of these buildings before I can vote because I can’t vote for $11 million today, to vote for $10 million tomorrow, to vote for $7 million the next year,” said Smith. “We need a full plan. I cannot vote for this today because I don’t know what’s next.”

Ward 2 Councilor Stephanie Martins tried to get the vote on the roof repairs postponed so more information and a more comprehensive plan could be presented to the Council, but the Council voted by an 8-3 margin not to postpone the vote to the next meeting.

A roll call vote was taken and Mayor DeMaria’s request for $11.4 million for repairs was declined, leaving the fate of the old EHS building in jeopardy of closing in January due to the lack of an insurance policy. DeMaria has stated that no insurance group would issue a new policy if the roof on the building did not undergo major repairs.

One matter that still needs clarification about the schools’ overcrowding issue is whether Supt. of Schools William Hart wants to use the second floor of the old Everett High School building for additional classrooms. DeMaria also said during the debate that Supt. Hart would like to use the old Pope John High School for an academy for all eighth-grade students in the city.

Van Campen said during the meeting that he didn’t feel the mayor and the superintendent of schools were “aligned on the issue.”

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