Political Consequences of the Lowell High Debate

Mimi Parseghian shares her observations on how the Lowell High debate is changing the political process in Lowell.

Political Consequences of the Lowell High Debate

By Mimi Parseghian

The “high school decision” is going to make or break some political lives.  The City of Lowell has not seen this kind of grass roots mobilization, anger, frustration and machination since the days of the debates regarding the construction of the arena and stadium.

I may have been naïve but until a couple of months ago, I thought the decision was in effect made:  we are renovating the old school.  The eminent domain issue regarding the doctor’s office was the only point of contention.  I was wrong.

Thursday night’s meeting was the culmination of a month of discussion in municipal meetings, the press and, more importantly, on social media.  That forum has given an opportunity to those who usually do not get involved in city affairs to organize, speak up and impact the course of the discussion and perhaps the decision.

Unlike in the past, when old media controlled the means of dispensing information, social media has made it possible for information to be disseminated in real time with little or no filter.  The exchange of data as well as the verification and validation of commentary have transformed the City Council “public hearing” to a 24 hour conversation.  At times, the loud dialogue is creating a divisive atmosphere.

The decision makers had to make sure that everyone understood and agreed that the process was fair and open.  Thursday’s 11th hour wrench now has made this impossible.  The flip-flop of Skanska (project manager) and Perkins Eastman (architects) in answering questions added to the atmosphere of mistrust.

Will the decision on the high school have a minor or major impact on the November City Council election? There is going to a significant group that will be dissatisfied.  Who they will support will become evident as we approach the decision.  It may even impact next year’s State Rep and State Senate race.  They have been put in a position to help bring back a level field.  Will they attempt to do so?  Will they succeed?  All four of them were present at last Thursday’s meeting.

At the end of this combative process, a new generation of local activists will emerge and that is good.

3 Responses to Political Consequences of the Lowell High Debate

  1. Bob McCarthy says:

    Hi Mimi; I am very interested in you elaborating on this story, I think you captured the climate and parental trust collapsing for those in favor of Building the best possible School with no interference from renovation disruptions, and feeling like they were talking to officials that were only selling one thing, a promise of renovating the high school with the least possible distractions and safety concerns especially since Article 94 seemed timed to take the Cawley site off the list beyond there own control. Then a prominent school official going on the record suddenly, for the first time, the same evening with concerns aimed at keeping the school right where it is. Well Now its been hours since the first published story alleging possible conspiracy, and not a single member of the Cities political hierarchy have commented. Its really very sad that this climate is allowed to persist in light of the current allegations that some have story-boarded to the greater community and the speculation of outright foul play by many others. Do we have to wait for elections to send the message we want, or is the story coming to light so we can plan what to do with the entire goal we started with: developing a modern school site for our children and the cities future.

  2. Matthew Donahue says:

    Mimi I am late to this game but you offer an accurate historical context. This is as well a generational issue — young middle class and new families — this is not rich or poor this is public education available to all– and a new media age that allows for instant organization. In the age of acceleration the city needs an educational system that prepares our youth for a new age changing dramatically in globalization, technology and climate change…
    Essentially we have invested tens of millions of dollars on a strategy to create a residential downtown. It has taken 40 years to get where we sit today on a precipice of finally creating a neighborhood of market rate housing in the downtown. This in turn will create a downtown that could support a local commercial district.
    The historical high school sits geographically in the center of that residential strategy.
    The question is does the high school fit into that strategy?
    20 years from now where do we want it to be?
    20 years ago the arena land was an old Courier Corp warehouse and Lelacheur Park was an abandoned shopping center…