I am the proud father of two graduates of Lowell High School, the first integrated coeducational public high school in the United States, and my wife and I know our children received a quality education at Lowell HS. They both went on to Boston University well prepared academically and socially as they thrived in the city.
To continue with and improve upon this high quality, there is no debate that the City of Lowell has to improve its high school facilities as soon as possible. I stand with the many people here tonight insisting that you put forward all 4 options to the MSBA.
Ultimately, I am sure that keeping the high school downtown is the best solution for the city, and that the city council will take into account the deep and damaging impact that a move to the Cawley site would have to our community. We will talk about transportation costs, and downtown businesses. We will talk about alternative uses for development downtown. We need to, but we also need to recognize the irony of calling ourselves a city built on partnerships as we leave behind all the partners who have improved the lives of so many families in Lowell.
We talk about partnerships with groups like CTI, Girls Inc, the Lowell Community Health Center, the Career Center and many others, as we move their constituents miles away making access to their programs and services much more difficult. It is vital to remember that for the dozens of ancillary groups, nonprofits and agencies that support the community — central access is key. We can not simply mouth the words of partnership and community taught to us by leaders like Tsongas and Mogan. The actions and decisions of Lowell must consistently and constantly prove this city to be the good-faith partner, the trusted friend and the unwavering champion of community.
We talk about the strength of Lowell being in its diversity and its arms open to all new arrivals, but at the same time we ignore the dissonance as we consider moving the largest facility supporting those same people and build a barrier between them and those support services. To me this is gross negligence of our responsibility to be good to those in need.
Tonight, I’m here to remind you of the voices that you can’t hear. I’m here to remind you of the thousands of families whose life will worse if you move the high school to Cawley. The families that are struggling to follow the arguments here because English is not their first language, the families who don’t have the luxury of a night off of work to come to a city council meeting because it’s more important that there is food on the table, and the voices of the many families who have yet to arrive in Lowell who will find it more difficult to access the help they need to assimilate into our community.
Then again, if you are counting voices for and against these proposals, shame on you — your job is to do what is best for this city, whether it is supported by the majority or not. If the majority wants something that is not good for the city, then it is your job to educate, inform and lead them. If they will not be led, it is your job to do the right thing, even if it might cost your seat on the council.
I am fully confident that the City Council will do it’s best to provide honest and complete answers to all the questions regarding the costs of development for the four plans and be good faith brokers, but I’d like to point out some of the things I expect to happen as an interested party.
The city council needs further answers as soon as possible on parking at Cawley (current plans show not enough). We need exact costs of building sidewalks and roads that will not be reimbursable by the state, and to do these things the city must DO a traffic study to see if that location is even possible.
Furthermore, the city must start to work immediately with the doctor’s office at 75 Arcand Drive the same way they are working on the article 97 changes to insure all options are clear, leaving no barriers to this project.
The council must deeply weigh the tremendous impact of losing the large size of the Irish Auditorium and the impact it would be to the art programs of the high school and in the community beyond. The size of an auditorium at a new location is limited by law to 750 seats. No small consideration when our city seal says, “Art is the Handmaid of Human Good”
The city council needs to be sure that any study of the economic impact of LHS in downtown takes into account far more than just the impact of students and faculty on the downtown businesses.
It is also about the parents who become familiar with downtown because of their children’s activities. It is about the many partners who hire the students with grants and economic development moneys from state, federal and private sources.
It is about attracting families to move to Lowell to raise their kids by offering an urban campus experience that none of the communities around us can offer. It is about keeping high-risk kids in school and helping them graduate to get better jobs and become a healthy part of the city’s present and future.
It is also about the multitude of other events, both education related and otherwise, that happen at LHS which show off our city and bring people from all around to experience the very best of our city.
If we fecklessly raise a generation of families afraid to be downtown, a generation who told we are moving the High School because downtown is filled with drugs and homeless people, then yes, it will be a prophecy fulfilled and our downtown will completely die.
I expect the city council to consider how incredibly difficult it has been to fill the many open parcels in the Hamilton Canal district, parcels that do not have the limitations inherent in a historic landmark. Developing the LHS site for alternative uses is not an easy matter of just giving it to UML, or selling it to a developer, or finding some big corporation to jump at the chance to be in our city. In all likelihood, LHS leaving downtown means many years of a slowly failing building becoming an open wound in our heart.
I expect the city council to remember that the renovation downtown will solve the leaks, the cold, etc – It will be a state of the art facility in the end, no different than the Cawley site. And I expect that the city council will understand that, while the construction period will be awkward and uncomfortable, it should not be a factor in determining the site for the high school for the next 50-75 years.
In the end, if a case can be made that our future would be better by making an enormous gamble on the Cawley site, I’m sure our neighbors in Tewksbury will enjoy the new tax revenues that will be generated by Lowellians in their nearby restaurants and businesses.