Lowell Week in Review: July 22, 2018

Franco American School – f/n/a Ayer Mansion

Franco-American School

Just a few weeks ago, several hundred people in evening wear visited the Franco-American School at 357 Pawtucket Street for the Coalition for a Better Acre’s big annual fund raiser. They got to see the building as it was. Now, the building has been transformed into a construction site as its highly-anticipated conversion to a residence is underway.

Because of its proximity to an early bridge across the Merrimack, this parcel has always been an important place in this region. An early owner was Phineas Whiting who maintained a house and a general store on the lot. In 1859, a descendant of Whiting sold the lot to Frederick Ayer for $9,000. By 1876, Ayer had replaced the original wood frame Whiting home with the ornate three-story brick mansion which still stands along Pawtucket Street.

In 1899, Frederick Ayer and his family moved to Boston and the Ayer Mansion in Lowell sat vacant until July 15, 1908, when Ayer conveyed the property for $1 to members of Lowell’s St. Jean Baptiste Parish. These parishioners then formed a corporation called L’Orphelinat Franco-Americain and operated an orphanage on the site. In 1912, a four-story brick wing was added to the back of the home.

In 1964, the corporation’s articles of organization were amended, changing the corporate name to Franco American School of Lowell Inc. which operated until June 2016. In 2017, the corporation sold the property to a limited liability corporation called Franco American Holdings which involves TMI Property Management and Coalition for a Better Acre.

4-story school addition

The work now underway will convert the front part of the property – the Ayer Mansion – to 20,000 square feet of professional office space and the rear portion of the property – the four story addition from 1912 – into 53 residential units including five newly constructed rooftop units.

The Grotto

As a condition of the sale, the new owner agreed to preserve and improve the Grotto and the Stations of the Cross that have long been located on the rear portion of the property. These will be reoriented towards the Northern Canal which forms the rear boundary of the property. The sketch below is from a plan submitted by the LLC to the Lowell Conservation Commission. It shows some of the details of the renovated Grotto and the new location for the Stations of the Cross (small boxes with an “x” inside each).

The building renovation and the restoration of the Grotto are both great projects. I’m hopeful that the Grotto portion will be a catalyst for a revival of the Northern Canal Walkway which was once one of Lowell’s most popular “promenades” and could return to that status because of this project.

Friends of Tyler Park

Congratulations to the Friends of Tyler Park for presenting an outstanding outdoor entertainment event on Thursday night. With music by the very popular band, Take Two, free hot dogs and snacks, and face painting for the kids, plus the beautiful weather that night, this free concert drew hundreds of people to this Olmstead-designed park on outer Westford Street. While there were plenty of neighborhood residents in attendance, it seemed that just as many of the spectators were from other neighborhoods in Lowell and from surrounding towns.

The next Tyler Park concert is August 16 at 6pm and the Friends of Tyler Park will have their annual spaghetti supper fund raiser on Wednesday, October 17 at 6pm Mt. Pleasant Golf Club, 141 Staples Street. More information is available on the group’s Facebook page.

Since I live just a short distance from Tyler Park, I attend most of these concerts anyway, but Thursday I did double duty as a candidate for office, asking everyone I met for their support in my re-election campaign for register of deeds. Other candidates I encountered there that night were Lori Trahan (Congress) and Ed Kennedy (State Senate).

Greater Lowell Technical High School

Another candidate at Tyler Park was Fred Bahou, who is running for reelection to the Greater Lowell Technical School Committee. This is an historic year for that body because it is the first time its committee members will be elected under a new system that resulted from a challenge to the Constitutionality of the former method of electing its School Committee members.

From its inception, the Greater Lowell Technical School Committee had eight members: four from Lowell; two from Dracut; and one each from Tyngsborough and Dunstable. Candidates ran in their own local municipal election, unrelated to the election of committee members from other communities. So Lowell representatives were elected in the Lowell city election and Dracut representatives were elected in the Dracut town election, and so on.

The Constitutional challenge alleged that this system violated the one-person one-vote principal. For instance, with a population of 110,000, each of the four Lowell committee members represented 27,500 people, while the sole Dunstable member represented just 3,400 people which gave the vote of each person in Dunstable disproportionate weight.

Under this new system, candidates for Technical School Committee will appear on the state election ballot along with governor, US Senator, state senator, register of deeds, and all the other state offices. On this same ballot in the city of Lowell and the towns of Dracut, Dunstable and Tyngsborough, the office of Technical School Committee will also appear. All of the candidates for the committee, regardless of their community of residence, will appear on this ballot in all of the communities in the district. That means voters of Lowell will be able to vote for candidates from Dracut, Dunstable and Tyngsborough and voters in those towns will be able to vote for candidates who live in Lowell.

However, to prevent Lowell’s much larger population of voters skewing the result entirely in favor of Lowell candidates, the election winners will be determined by a combination of the number of votes they receive and the town in which they reside. To illustrate, assume there will be two Lowell seats and one Dracut seat to be filled in this year’s election. Assume further there are six candidates: four from Lowell and two from Dracut. Their hypothetical order of finish in terms of total votes is as follows:

  • Lowell candidate #1 – 10,000 votes
  • Lowell candidate #2 – 9,500 votes
  • Lowell candidate #3 – 9,250 votes
  • Dracut candidate #1 – 9,000 votes
  • Lowell candidate #4 – 8,500 votes
  • Dracut candidate #2 – 8,000 votes

With these results, the winners would be Lowell candidate #1; Lowell candidate #2; and Dracut candidate #1. Even though Lowell candidate #3 received more votes than Dracut candidate #1, Dracut candidate #1 would win the “Dracut” seat.

At least I think that’s how it is going to work. Hopefully we’ll learn more about this process prior to November 6, 2018. But for those interested in local election procedures, this is a very interesting development.

Charlie Gargiulo and his family was forced from their Austin St home by Urban Renewal.

Lowell Walks: Moody Street

Thanks to the 85 people who joined us for yesterday’s Lowell Walk. The topic was Moody Street and the tour was led by me, Craig Thomas of Coalition for a Better Acre, and Charlie Gargiulo, one of the founders of the Coalition for a Better Acre.

During the tour we talked about:

  • Paul Moody
  • How the construction of the JFK Civic Center and its plaza next to City Hall in 1966 blocked off that end of Moody Street
  • The Moody Street feeder, an underground canal that runs 1500 feet underneath Moody Street and City Hall plaza, connecting the Western Canal with the Merrimack Canal at Lucy Larcom Park
  • The theaters, clubs and cafes in the area, one of which hosted Billie Holiday’s final performance
  • The history of the Northern Canal Apartments
  • Future plans for Smith Baker Center and the Ayer Mansion by Coalition for a Better.

Next week is the Lowell Folk Festival, so no walk that weekend and we’ll also take the following Saturday (August 4, 2018) off. Our walks will resume on Saturday, August 11, 2018, at 10am with a walk featuring downtown art galleries.

Richard Howe for Register of Deeds

This week I posted a new video on the Declaration of Homestead on my Facebook page. Please watch the video and, if you haven’t already done so, “like” the page on Facebook.

Thanks to everyone who has signed up to support my campaign, especially those of you who have requested a lawn sign. Name recognition and visibility will be very important in this race, so lawn signs will be a big help. If you would like one for your yard or would like to help my campaign in other ways, just signup online.