Should ideally be used as a 7th and 8th grade facility; New high school 10 years away
By Josh Resnek
Monday evening’s School Committee meeting was spearheaded by Superintendent of Schools Priya Tahiliani and a seamless presentation she made outlining the most reasonable, affordable and timely reuse of the former Pope John High School.
Mayor Carlo DeMaria did not dismiss the possibility he might change his mind. He even suggested dialogue and meetings and repeated his claim that “my door is always open.”
“I’d love to be Santa Claus,” the mayor said. “There are people starving in Everett,” he claimed. “People can’t pay their taxes. People can’t afford to live here anymore. But I’ll meet with you and go over the plans,” he told Tahiliani.
The mayor did not provide evidence of people starving in Everett. There have been no reports of starvation here. He answered Tahiliani’s opening remarks and confronted School Chair Jeannie Cristiano by saying teaching kids inside closets in the Everett public schools isn’t as bad as what he sees.
“I see kids living in closets every day. Day in and day out,” he said. He did not provide evidence of where he had viewed children living inside closets, or who owned the homes where this was supposedly happening and he did not discuss ordering enforcement efforts, if any, to prevent such situations.
The mayor revealed he hadn’t been inside an Everett public school since COVID.
“I don’t think we can wait for ten years for just a new high school. We need a school building yesterday,” Tahiliani said during her presentation.
School Committee Chair Jeannie Cristiano chimed in, “The plans are great (for Pope John). We need action now.”
Tahiliani delivered a detailed report on what Pope John offers and what it might cost to bring the facility up to code for the use as a public school.
She said she and her staff had overestimated the cost as a matter of common sense.
Pope John offers 46 classrooms, science labs, media center, a guidance suite and a cafeteria, she said.
“This would be a conducive environment for 7th and 8th grade students,” she said.
“This would also allow us to provide more optimal class sizes. There would be rooms dedicated to music and art and there would be more opportunity for specialized services,” she added.
The citywide school system is about 1,200 students overcrowded.
Tahiliani said the use of Pope John as a school would cause multiple impacts on all the overcrowded public schools.
She estimated it might take about $30 million to $40 million to prepare the Pope John facility for reuse.
Tahiliani revealed, to the mayor’s surprise, that the School Department had hired its own team to estimate costs and to investigate needs to bring the facility up to par and that experts hired by the School Department had finished their study.
Tahiliani told the mayor this would make whatever he was doing to estimate costs a good test as to just how much needs to be spent with no one being broadsided by a bloated figure.
Tahiliani told the School Committee that Pope John is structurally sound and in robust shape. She said some asbestos removal would be required, that a new air conditioning system would need to be installed as well as sprinkler system.
“Pope John is completely doable. Pope John is a very viable opportunity for us,” she said.
School Committeeman Mike Mangan told his colleagues, four of whom were absent, that he had interviewed nearly all the homeowners adjacent to the Pope John School during three meetings with the proposed developers.
“Not one was in favor of converting the school into housing,” Mangan told his colleagues, and this included the mayor.
Mangan said nearly all the city councilors are overwhelmingly in favor of the Pope John School plan.
He asked that city councilors be invited to a walk through voted on during the last council meeting which includes the mayor, the school committee, the city council and structural engineers, plumbers, electricians, et cetera.
That measure passed unanimously Monday night.