Lowell City Council Meeting: January 10, 2017
Unfinished business: Motion by Councilor Elliott, request City Manager contact state regarding installation of “rolling barrier system” for intersection of Gorham St and Lowell Connector.
Unfinished business; Motion by Councilors Elliott and Leahy, request city council vote to implement legal measures against National Grid for delays associated with bridge projects in the city. They understand that work on the Broadway Bridge has been held up by National Grid’s failure to accomplish work on a timely basis. With several other bridges still to be repaired, the councilors want to send a message to National Grid that greater cooperation is needed. City Manager Murphy says he has great frustration, not just about the Broadway bridge but with a number of other issues in the city.
City Manager Responses
Stone wall at Crowley Park in Highlands will be repaired with city resources as soon as the weather improves.
Economic Development Subcommittee meeting from earlier tonight. Subcommittee Chair suggests people watch a replay of the meeting because the city manager and the DPD staff put into perspective many of the elements of the Hamilton Canal District and the related projects such as Thorndike Street, the Gallagher Terminal, and access to the Lowell Connector. They also talked about the creation of a walking trail on the South Common. They are still deciding what to do with the Lord Overpass, whether to rehabilitate it or redesign it. They expect to have a recommendation within a month. Several councils make many positive comments about the progress of the Hamilton Canal District work as expressed by DPD staff at the meeting tonight.
By Councilor Milinazzo, request city manager have traffic engineer review and comment on the new striping along the Hunts Falls Bridge. Explains that new markings on the bridge and rotary are confusing and asks that the traffic engineer check to ensure it is properly done.
By Councilor Belanger, request city manager update city council regarding UTEC Mattress Recycling Facility relocating to Lowell. Explains that UTEC must vacate its Lawrence mattress recycling site in the near future (with its 75 jobs). Councilor Belanger wants it to come to Lowell and so urges the city administration to do whatever is needed to make that happen.
By Councilor Belanger, request city manager provide city council with outline establishing a city-wide Youth Council. Says this idea came from the National League of Cities Conference which he attended last fall.
By Councilors Belanger and Leahy, request city manager have Skanska provide report outlining the rejection of the South Common as a viable location for new high school. Councilor Belanger says he is curious about the South Common as a site for a new high school. He’s concerned about the potential disruption to students if the current school is renovated in place. He’s also concerned about the large number of students who walk to the school and feels this is a site that would also allow many to walk. He would like an explanation of why it was rejected.
Steve Gendron registered to speak. Says he is the lone school committee representative on the School Building Committee. He says at its last meeting, he requested that Committee restore the South Common to the list to be considered. He says the downtown location is probably best for the school but he thinks it’s important to have all of the options on the table. He has a chart that Skanska provided (he distributes it to councilors). Explains that the chart shows the seven options considered. The three bottom were easily rejected and the top three rose to the top. He says the South Common “was on the bubble” primarily because the land is owned by the state and is protected by Article 97 which protects green space. But he says the state can give a waiver which can take a long time. That contributed to the rejection. But then he thought about the three options (Wang School and Cawley) which he says have some detriments, like being on the outskirts of the city. Says they will require more busing each year. Also, both locations are in or bordering single family suburban districts which we want to protect. He says dropping a large high school in a single family zone could be a detriment to the city. Says when he thought about South Common, he felt it is centrally located, it’s directly across from the LRTA terminal. He says it is not too small, that it’s three times larger than the downtown location. He also wants to reach out to the state delegation to explore how long it would take to get the waiver to use the South Common.
Councilor Leahy says he wants to be sure we’ve done our homework. He says the location is great. It’s centrally located. It wouldn’t disrupt the current education. Says he is puzzled by the Wang site because of the extra traffic going to that neighborhood. He says he wants to make sure we’re making the best decisions we can.
Councilor Mercier says when we talk about bordering suburban single family districts and inconveniencing them, I understand that, but I don’t know what neighborhood has not been disrupted. Cites the land fill in the Highlands; the waste water treatment plant in Centralville; Pawtucketville has UMass Lowell and its students. But given that, she says neither Clark Road nor Douglas Road should be the access to a Cawley Stadium high school. Says putting it on the South Common could inconvenience Sal Lupoli and all the money he is putting into his project. Says she’s not in favor of the South Common because it’s state owned and the state can drag its feet. She says some people tell her we should just scrap the plans because we don’t need a new high school. Says she doesn’t agree because we might not ever get the chance for the reimbursement rate the state now provides. She then says that the subcommittee meeting tonight briefed the councilors on all the great work that is to be done on South Common and we don’t want to waste that. She says the city is planning to spend nearly $1 million to improve the South Common and putting a high school there is not a good thing.
Councilor Milinazzo says he can’t support this either. Says it feels like an end run around the building committee. There was an effort by Gendron at that meeting and he lost. Says he also doesn’t want to squeeze the school onto the South Common which has great value to the city.
Councilor Rourke says he can’t support the motion. He says getting the state involved in granting permission could delay it. Also, we’ve done a lot of work to revive the South Common as an important park in the city. Ask city manager if there is any report he knows of about the number of students who walk and busing costs. Manager Murphy says there is no such report that he knows of. He says he’ll get some information about walkers and cost of busing. He says we’re far enough down the line and we have committees in place to deal with this.
Councilor Samaras says he can’t support this motion. Says South Common is an historic greenspace. It’s the only one that residents of Back Central have. He says the Murkland School was built on the footprint of the Morrill School and so it really wasn’t taking land from the North Common. He says in the past, the school department has attempted to build schools on both commons and the state did not give permission for either other than the Rogers and the Murkland. He asks what has changed? Says this would just delay the process and possibly jeopardize it. Says the Cawley Plan contemplates buses approaching from Rogers Street, not on Clark or Douglas Road.
Councilor Leary says he will support the motion because it asks for the reasons why the South Common was rejected. Says he would like to see the minutes of the School Building Committee’s discussion on the various sites. He asks about the $1.2 million that’s to be spent on upgrading the South Common and asks if there is additional funds (yes, a total of $7 million is planned to be spent on South Common). He reminds us of all the people who will be going into the Lupoli Complex and the Judicial Center. He says he won’t support putting the High School on the South Common, but he sees no harm in getting more information.
Councilor Belanger says he was not throwing down a gauntlet by saying it must go on the South Common. We just want what’s best for the city and best for the kids. He says he does not have in mind encroaching on the greenspace. He says the Rogers School has a large footprint. His thinking includes continuing to include the athletic field. He says if we asked our state legislators to push a waiver through, they would get it done. But if there’s no appetite for that, “I get it.”
Councilor Elliott says it’s a well-intentioned motion but as Councilor Milinazzo says, we already know why it’s on the list. We’ve paid these consultants $2mil for this feasibility study. I think they’re doing a good job. I think this motion asks us to get ahead of ourselves. We should wait for the consultants to give us their recommendation. To him, the bottom line is what can the city afford. We need to know the costs of these things. Putting this project in the hands of the legislature is risky because it may or may not pass. This measure “throws a wrench into the process.” Asks about the next steps in the process. Manager Murphy says the Educational Plan is being finalized by the consultants and will be presented to the school committee soon. He anticipates making a presentation to the council in early February that puts a price tag on each of the three options that were presented last week (Existing site, Cawley, Wang). Councilor Elliott says that is reasonable and we don’t want to delay getting the financing.
Mayor Kennedy says he intends to support the motion. He assumes they filed the motion at the request of Mr. Gendron, but there are probably other people who would like to know why the South Common isn’t a viable site. He believes the City Manager could churn out such a report very quickly. Also suggests facilities subcommittee have a tour of the existing high school and then go to see the new Lawrence High School. This will give everyone a realistic view of the problems with the current high school.
Motion is defeated with five against (Rourke, Milinazzo, Mercier, Samaras, Elliott) with four voting yes (Belanger, Leahy, Leary, Kennedy).
By Councilor Leahy, request city council refer snow emergency ordinance to Neighborhood Subcommittee for review. Councilors also ask questions about how people get notice of snow emergency, where they can park their cars, and about enforcing rules about shoveling sidewalks. Manager Murphy says if you don’t enforce the ban by ticketing or towing, people won’t comply with it.
Meeting adjourns at 7:54 pm.