Salem - The Massachusetts School Building Authority has given a thumbs down to a city pitch to relocate the Horace Mann Laboratory School, triggering another delay to an already decades-old project.
City leaders submitted a "statement of interest" to the MSBA last March to get cash that would enable moving Horace Mann, currently on Salem State University's North Campus, to the Harrington Building on the university's South Campus. This would be done in concert with several moves on Salem State's end, including a shift of South Campus programs to the North Campus, that would tighten up its own operations. The move would also add safety to Horace Mann, which sits on the heavily used Loring Avenue and has students bused to Harrington on a daily basis for gym class. But in its response, the MSBA has effectively told the city to "ask again later."
In a recent letter to the city, MSBA officials wrote that Salem "will not be invited into the MSBA's eligibility period at this time." The eligibility period leads to a second application to actually get funding, a process that typically enables large-scale school building projects to move forward. An attempt to get state support for the second phase of high school renovations was also shot down. "If the district would like these schools to be considered for future collaboration with the MSBA, the district should file (another statement of interest) in an upcoming year," MSBA leadership wrote. "The MSBA will begin accepting (statements) for consideration in 2018 starting on Friday, Jan. 5."
Salem Public Schools Superintendent Margarita Ruiz said she was disappointed by the news, but it certainly doesn't mark an end to the project. "As part of the process with the statement of interest, the MSBA came to visit and met with us and were able to tour the Horace Mann building and take a look at the Harrington building as well," Ruiz said. "We got very good feedback from our application."
The main problem was priorities. The state received 83 submissions from 59 different school districts, but only had enough funding for a paltry percentage of them, both Ruiz and the letter indicated."They explained to us that this was purely an issue of funding, that they had so many applications, so many statements of interest that merited funding," Ruiz said. "Unfortunately, they had to make some tough decisions, and they weren't able to fund (Horace Mann) this year."
The rejection on the high school's project — effectively a "second phase" of a renovation finished years ago — is due in part to separate, yet ongoing, efforts to "redesign" its programming and structure. That came out of a public planning process spanning the last couple years, but the MSBA wants a clear picture of the high school's structure before committing resources."Once we have the high school redesign in place, we'll be in a better place to have a stronger statement of interest for the high school," Ruiz said.
Ward 7 City Councilor Steve Dibble expressed frustration over the news about Horace Mann, a project that was one of his biggest issues when first taking office two years ago.
"The relocation of the school has been talked about for over three decades," Dibble said. "Everyone knows about it, seems to want it to happen. We just need to get it done."
Ruiz agreed, and she said leaders are considering their options — including refiling in the currently open window to be considered again later this year.
"We - the leadership at Salem State and here at Salem Public Schools - realize that the children deserve a much better facility," Ruiz said. "I'm also responsive to the concerns of the parents around safety. The school is located on Loring Avenue. It's a rather busy area of Loring Avenue with no parking for the staff, no parking for families. "All these things put together point in the direction that we really need to figure out a better solution for Horace Mann." by Dustin Luca salemnews.com