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The LHS Review

Hushed issues with an LHS move

Public should consider real costs of Cawley

A vision for the downtown Lowell High School option 3 would add green space.

A vision for the downtown Lowell High School option 3 would add green space.

Courtesy Mr. Martin

Courtesy Mr. Martin

A vision for the downtown Lowell High School option 3 would add green space.

Mary Tgibedes, Opinion Writer and Artist

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By Mary Tgibides, Staff Opinion Writer

With the upcoming decision on Tuesday, June 20th at 6:30 p.m. in the City Hall council chamber,  councilors will vote on where to put the new high school.  The City has been torn apart trying to figure out the best location. Granted, this is a huge decision, and we do not have much time to decide.   As a current Lowell High School student who has been paying attention to the issues involving the debate, I would like to enlighten you on some hushed pros and cons going into the decision.  

New building options

There are four remaining options concerning the renovation and/or placement of the new school. Option One is simply just renovations, just “painting the walls” as one of my teachers put it. Therefore Option One is honestly out of the question as a real possibility to the fate of Lowell High because it really would not accomplish much; it’s a waste of taxpayer money, if you ask me.

Option Two is doing renovations and an addition to the school on its current property. Unexciting and not really one of the better-known options, this would cost $344 million dollars, with the city of Lowell paying in $135 million.

Option Three and Option Four are the two options that people are most seriously arguing about. Option Three would be the “most expensive” out of all the options. This is where the city buys up the doctors’ building and adds that land as an addition to the school, as well as renovating the current school buildings. The total cost of this project would be around $353 million dollars, but the city only has to pay $143 million dollars.

Now, if you think Option Three sounds expensive, Option Four, which is putting the new high school at Cawley Stadium will be even worse, despite popular opinion. Cawley is technically the least expensive option over all, but in fact this is just an illusion. Even though the total cost of this project will range from $336-339 million dollars, the city has a larger cost to pay-$152 million dollars. This means the taxpayers of Lowell will have to pay more for the construction at Cawley than they would if they chose Option Three.

Option four costliest to taxpayers

The reason Lowell will pay more is because of something called reimbursable costs vs. non-reimbursable costs. Reimbursable costs would be what the state has to pay, according to the Massachusetts Building Authority guidelines.  These are things like the architecture, furniture, technology, internal building piping and wiring. Non-reimbursable costs would be what the city has to pay for.  These are things like road paving, land clearing, sidewalks, parking lots, new underground water and sewage pipes, electric and gas pipes, and expanding current roads. If the new high school is built downtown, the non-reimbursable cost is much lower, because much of the infrastructure is already in place.

In contrast, Cawley is all untouched land. The city would have a much higher cost because it would be building on new ground that has no underground piping and no concrete support layer to keep the school from blowing away in the wind. Speaking of that layer of concrete support, according to engineers that came to the school to talk about the different options about a month ago, we would have to buy up twice the amount of land that we actually need to build the school on just for the supportive concrete to be put in place.

Proposed bussing costs

Another problem with building the new school at Cawley would be the traffic issues due to the number of students that must take the school bus every day for as long as the high school stays at Cawley, which by the way, will cost $3.2 million dollars for the year 2021. The cost of bussing students will only go up continuously every year as well; by year 2033 bussing will be $3.8 million according to the City Council Agenda Packet. More taxpayer money lost to future unnecessary expenses. All of the kids like myself that walk to and from school, all 40% of them, will now need to be bussed. The money that is going to bussing students to Cawley could be going into paying 60-100 more professional teachers’ salaries to fix the shortage of teachers we have in public schools, decreasing class sizes and thus providing a better education to students who need more one-on-one attention from teachers.  The school department plans to hire a consultant to look at transportation costs associated with this option.

Estimated costs to Downtown economy

Another challenging issue about the Cawley plan is the damage economically it will do to businesses downtown. No one was willing to talk about this issue that I had been bringing up for weeks if not months, except for Lowell Sun reporter Todd Feathers. Students from the high school make up a huge slice of business that occurs in the shops downtown–according to Feathers up to 33%. Many adults over 40 were telling me even before the issue of the new high school came up that the huge volume of teenagers downtown were scaring away older customers that would go downtown to shop. This may be somewhat true, but would the city really be willing to risk the bankruptcy of the majority of downtown’s coffee and food shops that students go to every day to test that theory? Or how about all the restaurants students go to after school with their friends? More places than just our beloved Hypertext will be going out of business if the school is moved to Cawley, and that’s a fact.

Arts may remain second place, some athletes still bussed

A big argument among Cawley supporters is the fact that all the areas where students go to practice will be right in the school’s backyard…except for all the fields that will be lost to the construction of the new school. Therefore, students will still have to be bussed out to other places to practice sports if their field is taken.  According to the Conservation Commission plan, lacrosse and field hockey fields are proposed at a Manning Road site bordering Chelmsford.  Additionally, the emphasis on sports with the school move is detrimental to students that fancy the fine arts. Moving Lowell High to Cawley Stadium, according to the floor plans, means the new auditorium should be the same size as the the current Irish auditorium, which is 7945 square feet in seating, plus another 1690 square feet in the balcony space, and 2642 square feet for the stage. But this is not guaranteed. While the current school is bad when it comes to accommodating the arts, which are centered in the basement of the school, it’s still not definite  that the arts will have a better layout at Cawley.

Disruptions inevitable at both sites

Now even though I lean toward Option Three, obviously than for Cawley, building and repairing the current school along with the new land that will have to be acquired will disrupt student learning to some point, and that’s a problem that we will not need to be dealt with if the school is built at Cawley.  Although all the time spent working on where the dentists used to be will not affect students, working on the school itself will be sort of messy and time-consuming, but it’s not impossible, and it’s for the better. Widening roads downtown if they must shouldn’t be much of a problem either; it will help alleviate traffic.  Land taking and road widening all along Route 38 to Cawley however will be very disruptive to traffic and businesses.

Though keeping the school downtown will be fodder for complaint among older residents of the city, keep in mind that you can shop downtown while we are in school, and if we are in school downtown, all your favorite stores will not be economically struggling or closed down. Even better, we’ll still be working down there too. Another aspect that businesses downtown must really like is that not only does the school provide easy-access to customers, it also provides a close and diverse place to gain young employees. This is something that will be taken away, provided the school is moved to Cawley, from students who don’t have easy access to downtown like they do currently.

Anyways, that’s just my input on the matter. The days are counting down, and time is running out before the June 20th vote. The question is now, what is the best option for the city and all of its students?

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Hushed issues with an LHS move