It’s time for the School Committee to relinquish control of the Coffin School property to the Select Board so that it might be sold.
That is the standard protocol when school buildings are abandoned. Most recently, this was done when the Gerry School was closed. The Select Board then exercised its legal authority to dispose of the property, and it was sold.
Throughout the process of seeking bids from prospective purchasers and the development of the Gerry site, the Select Board maintained oversight to ensure that the property was transformed into its current state in conformity with the conditions and expectations established by them.
The Coffin School has now been closed for two years. The structure has been deteriorating ever since, and this will only continue the longer it sits idle. There is no current educational use or need for this building, and that is not going to change in the foreseeable future.
The only basis for the School Committee to retain control of this site would be to resume its use as a school by renovating the building or demolishing it and building a new facility. But there is no reasonable expectation of need to support such an event.
At the time the School Committee was asking the town to approve the construction of the new Brown Elementary School, members assured us that Brown would be the final school construction need, as set forth in their 20-year master plan, that no further schools would be required for the next 50 years, and that Brown could be adapted to add up to eight additional classrooms, if circumstances should require such action. We believe that holding onto the Coffin property is fiscally irresponsible.
Not only is the School Committee refusing to turn over control of the Coffin School site to the Select Board, it is suggesting that the town spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to demolish the building, arguing in part that the property loses value as it further deteriorates.
But that argument, even if true, would only be applicable if the focus was on selling the property, which is not what they are advocating. And to accomplish this result, they suggest this money could be “found” by asking Town Meeting to allow surplus funds from the Bell School project that were never spent nor borrowed to be used, thereby unnecessarily increasing debt, which then has to be repaid.
And let us not forget that town leaders, including the School Committee, are predicting the need for future overrides to maintain current levels of service.
We find no reasonable basis to believe that construction of another school building is going to be needed, given the past assurances of the School Committee during their advocacy for construction of Brown, coupled with declining enrollments and the existing ability of the Brown and Village schools to absorb an increase in enrollment, should such need arise in the future.
And we cannot lose sight of the fact that there does now exist a further school site, the Eveleth, which temporarily is housing the library until the completion of renovations to its permanent home. Once the library leaves Eveleth, we will have a second abandoned school site to address, but that is a discussion for another day.
We implore the School Committee to reconsider its recent vote to retain control of Coffin, turn the property over to the Select Board and let it be sold “as is.” Anything less is indefensible.
The Current Editorial Board
The members of the Current’s editorial board are Ed Bell, who serves as chairman, and Virginia Buckingham, both members of the Current’s board of directors; Kris Olson and Will Dowd, members of the Current’s editorial staff; and Robert Peck and Joseph P. Kahn. Peck is an attorney, former chairman of Marblehead’s Finance Committee and a former Select Board member. Kahn is a retired Boston Globe journalist.