School Committee discusses demolishing the old Coffin School, fixing Brown School roof and more

**This story was updated to reflect that additional money from the Brown School project (that might be used to demolish the Coffin School) was appropriated by Town Meeting, but was not borrowed.

The School Committee and acting Superintendent Michelle Cresta spoke about possibly demolishing the old Coffin School at a meeting on Sept 21. The elementary school closed in October of 2021. It has been discussed as a potential site for affordable housing.

“The building on the property is not only a nuisance, if they go to sell it… it will devalue the property,” said School Committee Chair Sarah Fox.

Cresta said that Town Finance Dir. Asleesha Benjamin told her money to demolish the Coffin School might come from surplus funds, appropriated but never borrowed, for the Brown School project. That transfer of funds would need to be approved at the next Town Meeting.

 The School Committee met on Thursday, Sept. 21. CURRENT PHOTO / LEIGH BLANDER

First, the School Committee needs to determine whether the district no longer needs the building for education purposes.

“As a committee, we really do need to decide what to do with the Coffin School,” said member Meagan Taylor. She asked Fox and the facilities sub-committee to re-share a list of unused school properties drafted last spring and report back any recommendations.

Veterans School ‘structural issue’

Fox also spoke about a “structural issue” in the D wing in the Veterans School that has closed some classrooms.

Fire Chief Jason Gilliland explained to the Current that a set of stairs built in 1976 “has some water underneath and some of the metal that was used to construct it has some rust and has started to degrade a little bit.”

Fox said, “They are working to expedite any repairs. We have some classrooms that students can not be in.”

Brown School roof leaking

Fox shared that the roof at the Brown School is leaking and has been for about a year.

“It’s a significant problem because it’s a new school,” she said. “Water is actively coming through and it needs to be addressed.” She added that a roofing contractor was expected to visit the school on Sept 22.

Fox announced that once the roof is repaired, it will be ready for solar panel installation. She said Joe Kowalik, director of the Marblehead Light Department, is requesting a meeting with the School Committee to talk about installing solar panels at all schools.

“Schools are the biggest user of energy in town,” Fox said. 

‘I don’t disagree that it would be great for us to work better together’

The School Committee agreed to schedule a workshop for its five members to help them communicate more effectively.

“I really believe that we would benefit if we started a communication workshop,” said member Brian Ota. “There have been a lot of things said in meetings and the press and public opinion that we’re not working together effectively.”

Member Jenn Schaeffner weighed in, saying “To work together on how we communicate with the public — parents, students, staff, the greater community in Marblehead — that’s not a bad idea, that’s a good idea. We could use some help with that.”

Member Alison Taylor pointed out: “I don’t disagree that it would be great for us to work better together. I don’t know that the same five people that aren’t working well together sitting together in a room is going to just magically get better. I think we need to think critically and strategically about what we’ll do in a room together… or who else will we have come speak to us to help facilitate some of that mending and improvement.”

The committee hopes to schedule the workshop with a facilitator next month.

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Editor Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter.

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