Jim Peters on Two High Schools for Lowell
Jim Peters shares his thoughts on the benefits of having two high schools in Lowell:
I was emailing my friend Cliff Krieger who commented that he was one of the minority who wanted two high schools. I thought about it, and was spurred on by a passing remark from a friend who said that he had heard that Sal L. was planning on tearing down the Hood Plant on Thorndike Street. It is better known as the Thorndike Factory Outlet.
That got me thinking, what could we put in such a massive building that would fix the problems that the building has structurally? And, suddenly, I became a proponent of the two high school idea. The only city project that could take over and re-form the old mill to a new level would be the millions coming into the city to build a new high school. I admit that it is a stretch, but we will not be the “Mill City” if we tear down every mill building which is not located in the National Park area. Now, if the owner cannot afford to maintain the building, which, as I said, was just a rumor, then the city buys it for a song and rebuilds the outside and inside with the money for a new high school.
About ten years ago, I sponsored a talk by former Presidential Democratic nominee, Michael Dukakis, to speak specifically on this issue. He lamented the idea that old buildings with so much history in them need to be torn down. Members of the University of Massachusetts, Congressman Marty Meehan’s Office, City of Lowell representatives, and people from the community came to back Mr. Dukakis. If they agreed then, and they said that they did, then little has changed. I was looking from my gravesite at the Concord River for years oveseeing the Omni Mill Building. One day I met a friend there and there was no mill building left. These things are expensive to maintain but we must all take part in maintaining them. What would have happened to Downton Abbey if that building, which is a lot more expensive to maintain than a mill building, was torn down after it passed its age of usefullness? A great many people would have missed a great show. Similiarly, if the mill buildings in town go the way of the Omni, our descendants will have missed a great show. I regret moving here right after the girl’s manufacturing houses were leveled and that concrete jungle replaced them. The University of Lowell has decimated Moody Street and its environs. We have all cheered the actions of the university but there were many neighborhoods in the recent construction that exist no more. Many were replaced by parking lots, which reminds me of that song about taking away Heaven and putting up parking lots. The Richard Howe Bridge saw the decimation of a major historical building when it was constructed. We had a group of people trying to save the old bridge as a tourist attraction by putting up Kiosks and trees and gardens on the old bridge. Now the Kerouac Bridge is no more. I agree that the new bridge definitely needed to be built, and it was named after a good friend of my father’s, and a great guy, but we could have used the Kerouac Bridge as a student crossway and pedestrian bridge. Marty Meehan rejected that one even though I told him of all of the romance and studying that would take place on that pedestrian bridge.
We are tearing down our city. I went to see Steven Stowell the City Historian, who is a wonderful person and good friend and I asked him why we could not get grants to repaint the signs on Father John’s Medicine and similiar sites. He stated that the paint pigmentation would not look old enough. So, I went to the library, found a book, and looked up pigmentation in the 1890’s. They actually have that information in the Library. I went back to Steve and told him that the correct 1890 pigmentation was ten percent dye to ninety percent turpentine. That would give us the correct color. Steve looked at my second head and just smiled. I do not believe he believed me. That is one of the problems with my not having enough to do.
A good, well-built second high school cannot be built in Belvidere. There are no buses going in that direction and it would be too expensive to take the land. Heaven knows we are spending enough on taxes already. The latest increase was sobering.
Taking the land is paramount. We have to take it and pay every landowner the market value of the property. That is why I am comfortable with the idea of a fourth building at the Merrimack Mills site for the high school, if we do not cater to people who want two high schools.
Here is the situation as I see it. If we do need a second high school, we need a building large enough to house it. That is the Hood Milk Plant or Thorndike Factory Outlet. There is not going to be enough parking and a lot could be placed next to the Rogers School. The Rogers School would have a role to play also. It would be a separate building housing the gymnasium and some classroom space for the school to grow into, and hopefully prosper in its turning out “scholars” as our 18th and 19th. century School Committees called the students. To its side would be the parking area. That may have to be a two or so story building. Red brick would be nice. The Rogers School would definitely have a role to play.
The other city-owned property that would have a role to play would be the South Common, which could be used for sporting assignments and gym classes. We might have a problem with some of the homeowners on beautiful Highland Street, as those buildings are all mansions, including the one that Paul Tsongas and his sister Thaliea grew up in. But, saving the Hood plant would be important to them, and even the Rogers School does not fit into that neighborhood.
One of the largest problems of a second high school anywhere else in the city is the problem of transportation. Buses cost heavily. Our current bus budget, for the grammar and middle schools, is in excess of fifty million dollars. This location would allow students to take their neighborhood buses to the Kennedy bus facility and walk to school without crossing Thorndike Street. There would probably have to be a pedestrian bridge across Thorndike Street, but that might be allowable with the new traffic pattern changes cited by the City Council a few weeks ago.
The building needs extensive repairs. Over two hundred million would do that. It does not need to be built from the ground up, which will save money.
The mill building is saved from demolition and there is precedence for having a mill building as a school, we did it very well at the Freshman Academy at Lowell High School. While the Hood building would be expensive, it has the potential for a great many classrooms. And, as I stated, we are slowly demolishing the city.
I asked a friend who has a fairly well-placed position in Lowell if he thought this was doable? He honestly thought it had its problems, mostly with parking. I could say that the parking garage could go where the factory has parking currently, but I do not want to deface a historic building. A strolling park like the Lucy Larcom Park would look nice there, and in the good weather, teachers could be surrounded by history as they teach outside. The jail, or Keith Academy, is next door. The Eliot Church is across the street, the home where Paul Tsongas first ran for office is across the street, too. There are many historic sites near the property.
So, that is my approach to a second location for the high school. Either way, we have to help the owner save that mill building. It is one of the largest in Lowell. I have Hood bottles from that site. Just rebuilding it would be historic.