The Myths, Facts, and Decision to Renovate Lowell High
By: John MacDonald – Jan. 2017
STORY PHOTO: GEORGE DELUCA
According to Wikipedia “damn those pesky websites with interesting historical information.”
“ Lowell, Massachusetts was incorporated as a town in 1826 and Lowell High School opened shortly after in 1831. One of its earliest homes was a small brick building on Middlesex Street owned by the Hamilton Manufacturing Company. From their inception, Lowell’s public schools were integrated. African American Caroline Van Vronker was a student at Lowell High School in 1843, at a time when every public high school in Massachusetts and the United States was segregated. In 1840, the high school moved into a new building located between Kirk Street and Anne Street along the Merrimack Canal.
Over the next 100 years, the school campus expanded. The oldest existent building replaced the 1840s building in 1893. In 1922, a large new building was built along Kirk Street and in the 1980s another building was built on the opposite side of the Merrimack Canal with connecting walkways over the canal. There are now three major buildings with one limited to the Freshman Academy. Current enrollment is over 3000 students.”… Wikipedia
Myth – Many local officials will tell you that Lowell High School is one of the oldest high schools in the country. It needs to stay where it is as not to lose its historical significance.
Fact – Yes, Lowell very well may be one of the oldest High Schools in the country, but not at its current location. Lowell had a high school yes, but per Wikipedia Lowell High School has seen several revisions and different buildings since 1831. We’d only be preserving something built in 1922.
Myth – Lowell High School’s central location is critical to the children. Students should be able to walk to school.
Fact – Several local cities moved their centrally located old high school out of the downtown to build in a newer, more sensible location – Lawrence, Haverhill and Fitchburg – all gateway and mill cities. Why? More land, better location, improved traffic flow… common sense!
Myth – Moving Lowell High School from downtown to Cawley Stadium is too far away.
Fact – Lowell High School is 2.6 miles from Cawley Stadium. In addition, many students are bused daily to Cawley Stadium, where mostly all of the athletic fields are located. By the way, the Cawley Stadium location has the land for a larger high school and campus. Downtown does not.
Myth – Traffic is already bad in and around Cawley Stadium.
Fact – True, but certainly not as bad or worse than the downtown. Jamming cars into the narrow old cobble stone downtown streets of an already busy business district brings traffic congestion to a maximum. Businesses have been complaining for years that traffic during the day is awful, when students arrive and leave for the day. Also, most sitting city councilors live in Belvidere, where Cawley Stadium is located. Belvidere is a place with the highest voter turnout in every municipal election. Guess who doesn’t want the high school in Belvidere? Belvidere voters? Ask yourself, who runs the high school? Where do they live?
This is where the rubber will hit the road. The wishes of Belvidere will trump common sense here. Are Lowell’s kids going to have to walk over the homeless person laying in a doorway on their way to school in Belvidere? Will students have to dodge in between cars in Belvidere, like they do downtown? No!
Myth- Moving the Lowell High School from downtown will adversely affect business.
Fact – Most downtown businesses want Lowell High School out of the downtown. Even UMASS Lowell and Middlesex Community College prefer giving their students an all-inclusive experience that encourages them to spend money on campus versus spending money at downtown businesses. The narrow streets are not conducive for a high school location that was built (1922) when still more people walked and more horses and buggies existed than cars.
Myth – It’s cheaper to renovate Lowell High School at its current location.
Fact – All commercially renovated buildings cost more to renovate. Period! The existing building has all the problems of a building that was built in its era. Not to mention the impending law suits from parents with health concerns about the filth that will permeate the air from demolition. A new building will cost ½ to 2/3 of the price… except in Lowell where those with connections will provide fiction as fact.
Myth – The kids will lose a quality education if the location is moved from the downtown.
Fact – Lowell has some of the best teachers in the state, coupled with some of the biggest educational challenges in the state. They could teach in a card board box. Location isn’t essential. Quality of the education is essential and yes… a new building would help the quality of the learning experience. How will teachers contend with a four to eight-year renovation project? Dust, noise, student absence, health scares and more frequent parent-teacher sessions will be the experience of some Lowellians and teachers in the future if we choose renovation over new and common sense.
Opinion – So, the moral of the story folks is… don’t believe the hype. Do your own research and if something doesn’t pass the sniff test… challenge! It’s only going to be your property tax bills that will increase substantially if you don’t. It’s going to be the current and future generations of Lowellians holding the bag on a renovated, expensive, crumbling piece of crap, with no expansion option twenty years from now. Our children of today will be asking in the future… How come no one stood up against this bad decision? They will be asking how come we have an aged police station, how come we can’t invest in other municipal buildings? How come Lowell is more expensive to live in than Chelmsford, Westford or Wellesley?
Fight back Lowell… Right now, NOSTALGIA is winning the day. Myths are winning the argument over facts and common sense.