Here's reporter Jackie Majerus' story in today's paper:
It will be at least January before the committee charged with finding a site for a 900-student K-8 school in Bristol's West End makes another recommendation.
The committee – which recommended the former Scalia sand pit as the best option only to see it rejected by city councilors before the election – said Monday they would not meet in December and would make no further recommendations on locating the building until they reconvene in January.
The nine-member committee is short two people, and members said Monday that they want new people appointed before they make a decision on what site to recommend.
When they reconvene, they will also consider other sites, committee members said, including the former IGA grocery store property at Park and Divinity, which would require the city to use eminent domain to take dozens of surrounding properties, including many homes and businesses.
As the committee prepared to discuss the various sites, city Councilor Ken Cockayne, who is a new member, asked to put the public comment period first. It had been scheduled for later in the meeting.
"The public might have something to say," said Cockayne, and his fellow members went along with his suggestion.
John Reek Jr. of Wolcott Street spoke up in defense of tenants – especially those in the Park and Divinity neighborhood who would be displaced if the city chooses that site and takes properties through eminent domain.
Reek, who said he rented until recently, said tenants are treated "like they don't exist" and have been left out of the discussion completely.
"Being a renter is not a bad thing," said Reek. "These people do not have a voice."
Reek said his grandfather was a Bristol factory worker and rented all his life. His parents, too, rented, Reek said.
Tenants are "living where they can afford to live. For many people, home ownership is not going to happen and that's okay, too," said Reek. "These are good people who are living within their means."
Reek presented the committee with a petition he said was signed by 48 parents of O'Connell School students who support building the new school in the former Scalia sand pit.
"We believe that the Scalia site is a neighborhood site," said Reek.
William Smyth, the finance chief of the school district, said the committee did take the concerns of the neighborhood residents, including tenants, into account.
"That was one of the reasons they chose the Scalia site," said Smyth.
Retired teacher Tom Doyle, who has spoken out in the past against the district's plan to switch to a K-8 format, said selecting the former Roberts property for a West End school would be "opening up a can of worms." He said the Park and Divinity site would be good for a small school, but not the large complex that school officials are envisioning.
But Smyth said the committee's role isn't to decide the size of the school, but to find a site for the K-8 school that's planned.
O'Connell School Principal Mike Audette, who chairs the committee, said there had been "hours of discussion" on the various sites. He said he's sure that if people had heard it all that many would have agreed with the committee on the Scalia site.
"That one at the time had the least amount of negatives," said Audette.
But Audette said his goal is to find a spot for the new West End school and see it built. He said if his first choice of a site isn't the one used, he's fine with that.
The committee recommended the Scalia property, but that doesn't mean they're "absolutely wedded to that site," said Audette. "There are three very good sites here."
Former Mayor William Stortz, who attended the meeting, said the council didn't think the committee made a good enough case for the Scalia property.
"Not enough justification was provided," said Stortz. "There were not enough convincing arguments."
School board member Chris Wilson said the committee will "have to make a stronger case" next time if they want the council to approve their choice.
Cockayne said the committee shouldn't dismiss the Scalia site.
"I do not want to see a school on the Roberts property," said Cockayne, who said it would mean a busing "nightmare" and the replacement of many acres of open space.
Smyth said he wishes the critics of the Scalia site would have read the feasibility study.
"Chippens Hill [Middle School] was built on a sand pit," said Smyth. "It's not negative."
Audette said he is striving to find a place that works well for both O'Connell and Bingham School families. The Scalia site does that, Audette said.
"This is a site that kind of bridges both districts," said Audette.
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