With a West End sand pit no longer on the table as a potential site for a proposed new school, officials are eyeing at least two Chippens Hill parcels as alternatives.
At the top of the list, and pushed by Mayor Art Ward, is the former Roberts property, which the city already owns.
But it’s not clear it can garner the support of the West Bristol School Building Committee or the City Council.
A new site, however, may stand a better chance.
Several officials, including Superintendent Philip Streifer, said that a lot at the corner of Clark Avenue and Matthews Street may be suitable.
It’s apparently available and may fit the bill for one of the 900-student, kindergarten to eighth grade buildings sought by the Board of Education, officials said.
What’s most clear, though, is that a decision has to be made within weeks or the entire $130 million plan for two new schools – one at the former Crowley dealership in Forestville and one somewhere in the western part of the city – will fail because there won’t be enough time to finish required work before the June 13, 2010 deadline set by the state for the project to get underway.
Ward said that the deadline could be extended, but Streifer and other school officials said it’s not going to happen.
Streifer said he'll ask the West Bristol School Building Committee to get moving as fast as it can to find a new site. A special meeting has been called for the panel on Wednesday to begin the process formally.
Ward said he plans to meet with the city's legislative delegation early next week to talk about pushing through a bill to give the city more time to complete the preliminary work on the school project.He said he also wants legislation to waive the requirement that the city buy an equivalent parcel if it opts to use the former Roberts property for a school.
Ward said he sought during the last legislative session to enact a measure that would free the city of the requirement. He said it had the backing of the entire delegation except for state Rep. Frank Nicastro, a Bristol Democrat and former mayor.
Nicastro said it’s true that he wouldn’t sign on to the plan.
He said that when he was mayor, he had the city buy the 46-acre parcel from the Roberts family for use as a recreation complex and that’s what he’d still like to see.
But what kept him from agreeing to the bill, he said, was his feeling that the measure “wasn’t the proper way” to proceed because there hadn’t been any public input into it beforehand.
Nicastro, who is also a city councilor, said that he wants to hear what the public has to say and for a consensus to emerge before he will consider supporting the idea that Ward is promoting.
“Something like that, you just don’t jump into,” Nicastro said.
Ward said he asked state Rep. Bill Hamzy, a Plymouth Republican whose 78th District includes the former Roberts parcel, to try to secure passage for the bill during the last session.
Hamzy lined up everyone except Nicastro, Ward said.
While the legislative issues may have been more complex than even Ward realized, Ward said he’s going to try again for a special measure as soon as January.
“It would at least give us another option for consideration,” the mayor said.
It may be, however, that it’s not much of an option.
It appears the only city councilor who supports the site for a school, besides Ward, is Republican Mike Rimcoski.
Several insiders said Thursday that the best bet is probably to find a site that hasn’t been on the agenda before, which is why the new lot is being looked at so closely.
Most officials believe that the four council supporters of the Scalia site on Barlow Street – Kevin McCauley, Cliff Block, Ken Cockayne and Craig Minor – are likely back a nearby site that doesn’t have any obvious pitfalls.
It’s possible that Ward might even join them, some said.
Nicastro and Rimcoski are considered less likely to support the new site than the others.
What makes it especially attractive, some said, is that the Planning Commission can be brought in early and might well back it because it has better roads and it’s less isolated than the Scalia pit.
Because planners gunned down the Scalia site on a unanimous vote this week, a two-thirds vote would be needed for the council to support its purchase. That won’t happen, everyone concedes.
But if planners back a new Chippens Hill site, then only the four councilors who backed Scalia would be needed to force its purchase.
What the West Bristol school panel might do is harder to say. It refused once before to change the Scalia site when councilors asked for a new option.
This time, though, there appears to be no way to proceed unless the site committee shifts its support to a new location.
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