Lowell Week in Review, May 21

Dick Howe asked me to be the guest host for this important weekly ritual.—PM

Garrison Keillor was known to start his regular report about local doings on his radio show A Prairie Home Companion by saying, “Well, it’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon . . .” I can’t remember the last quiet week in Lake Lowell. Another seven days rolled up and over us, in a good way for some if not for all.

It was not quite the crisis week that rocked us long distance from Trump-land (or Washington, D.C.), but we will be talking about the new voting rights law suit for a long time. The City of Lowell’s method of electing representatives for Council and School Committee through at-large voting is being challenged by about a dozen citizens from racial minority groups. The preferred alternative would be a system that includes district (neighborhoods, wards/precincts) representation or a mix of at-large and district reps—systems of the kind that most large municipalities in the state have adopted. Already, in addition to local and regional media, Boston journalists have picked up on the issue. Combined with the crucial June vote by the Council identifying a desired location for a new or renewed Lowell High School, the voting rights challenge means our community will be drawing intense scrutiny from within and without on the topic of fairness for all citizens. However one views these two matters, the question of equity has been underlined. People in and out of the city will connect the two matters. Placing the high school is a complex decision involving judgments about educational excellence, the quality of the physical plant and equipment, access to resources, construction and operational costs, and more. That said, the location and its radiating effects are significant.

Regarding the high school issue, the Sun newspaper on Saturday reported that state officials accepted the proposed replication plan for recreational land that would be affected by construction of a new high school near Cawley Stadium in Belvidere. This was a key step in keeping the “Cawley” option in play.

Elsewhere, Lowell the city did its thing in a multitude of ways, not the least of which is as a community model of charitable giving. Facebook followers saw pictures of an array of fundraising events. Lowell people give and give and give. I have long believed that someone, maybe a UMass Lowell or Middlesex Community College student researcher, should track one year of philanthropy in the city so that we can see the aggregate sharing of money. From banquets and walkathons to bake sales and student car washes, people are raising money everywhere you look. The needs are great, but the generosity is humbling to witness. Lowell organizations and individuals also attract the support of donors and grant-makers outside the city, a recent example being the Cummings Foundation’s commitment to provide $50k annually for ten years to Girls Inc. and UTEC, both serving young people with first-rate programs. That’s $1 million in ten years coming in to the city to support good work.

This weekend was Doors Open Lowell, the successful historic preservation program of the Lowell Historic Board and partners that showcases the best of the city’s architecture (and interiors), old and new. The DOL weekend kicked off with the annual preservation and cultural heritage excellence awards of Lowell National Historical Park in collaboration with the Lowell Heritage Partnership (LHP). A big crowd convened at the Boott Mills Museum to recognize and cheer for Jim Lichoulas for his extraordinary accomplishment in adaptive reuse at Mill No. 5, creating a social, cultural, and business magnet on Jackson St; the leadership and members of St Patrick Parish for a stellar church interior restoration by John Canning & Co. of Cheshire, Conn., which was the recipient of the 2017 Bulfinch Award from the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art; and Ingrid Hess for her book, Mr. Magnificent’s Magical Merrimack Adventure, a contemporary story with cut-paper art about an afternoon journey of Lowell young people, guided by the mysterious and airborne Mr. Magnificent. With doors open all over, Lucy Larcom Park on the Merrimack Canal was buzzing with tents, vendors, food trucks, and the enthusiastic public, a preview of what the Waterways Vitality Initiative organizers would like to see all the time. By the way, congratulations to James Ostis on being elected the new president of the LHP.

And just a quick note to offer kudos to UMass Lowell for awarding honorary doctoral degrees to popular political journalist Steve Kornacki of MSNBC, the Commencement Speaker; Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu, former Secretary of Energy in the Obama years; and business leader Francis Spinola and educator Mary Jo (Roberto) Spinola, alumni and major donors to the campus. It’s great that UMass Lowell keeps bringing outstanding persons to its events and having all the graduates see these folks being recognized for their achievements.

Look for Dick Howe, Jr., in this space next week.


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