Reporter Jackie Majerus wrote this:
The owners of Roberts Orchard said they think the former downtown mall site would be a better location for a new school than the site selected nearby on Chippens Hill.
"We like the mall site," said Ellen Ferrier. "It could be the catalyst to revitalizing downtown."
Ferrier and her sister and brother-in-law, Linda and Paul Arbesman, said they support building a new school but said that it should be located downtown on the 17 acres already owned by the city.
An attractive new school downtown would enhance the area, they said, and build on the assets already in the heart of the city.
A school would be a safe area and bring people downtown, they said. It would work well with the nearby Imagine Nation children's museum, the New England Carousel Museum, the Bristol Boys and Girls Club, the Bristol Public Library and Brackett Park.
"We just invested $10 million in the library," said Paul Arbesman, adding that it would be nice for school children to use it.
If the city can recover much of the money it paid for the mall by using the site for a school, Paul Arbesman said, it would make great sense to do so.
"In today's world in particular, money's kind of important," he said. Instead of money going out the door to buy something new, he said, there could be money coming back to the city.
"I have no problem with the school being up here," he said, but prefers the downtown site to the one at Matthews Street and Clark Avenue, just down the road from his orchard.
The West Bristol School Building Committee recently decided to propose the Matthews and Clark location to city councilors. Councilors have not yet weighed in on the issue, but they rejected an earlier proposal to put the school at a former Scalia sand pit. The city's planning board will also have to weigh in on the newly proposed site, perhaps as soon as this month.
Linda Arbesman said the new 900-student, K-8 school for the city's West End should be located within walking distance of the families to be served.
If one of the goals is to get parents involved in the school, volunteering in the classrooms and attending events, it would help to have the school close by so parents wouldn't have trouble getting to the school even if they didn't have access to a car.
The schools slated for closure, Bingham and O'Connell, are in the downtown area, Linda Arbesman said. St. Anthony's School, a parochial school which is also downtown, is not closing.
The economic climate isn't conducive to developing the former mall site, they said.
"It's not a good time for anybody to be developing anyway," said Ferrier, but she said what effort is expended should focus on the gateways to the city – including Riverside Avenue – and bring out the beauty of the Pequabuck River.
"Bristol should work on revitalizing downtown using the river like other cities have," said Ferrier.
If the school were located on the former mall property, the orchard owners said, businesses that cater to families would want to locate nearby and that would spur more activity.
"It would be an evening draw," said Ferrier.
According to Paul Arbesman, it's only natural for people to think of the future and want something better for their children than they had themselves. He said he does, too, and that's why he supports the idea of a new school.
"One of the best investments you can make with your tax dollars is the schools," he said.
The orchard owners are the latest voices to urge consideration of the downtown property for a school. Early on, the mall site had some proponents, but they were outvoted by officials who opposed giving up such a large chunk of commercial real estate.
More recently, developer George Carpenter has spoken out strongly in favor of putting the school on the site, saying it would be tough to find a developer in this economy to invest in the property.
The Bristol Downtown Development Corp. is in charge of overseeing the re-use of the former mall site. Though they've yet to find a developer to undertake the retail, commercial and residential project they envision, only one board member, Thomas Cosgrove, has voiced support for locating the school on the former mall site.
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