By: Tom Duggan – August, 2004
LAWRENCE – Two years ago the Lawrence City Council agreed to grant a small portion of land at the Veterans Memorial Stadium for construction of a new Lawrence High School. At the time, the Council was assured that no more land would be needed and if there were any changes to the construction plans another vote of the council would be required.
Last month, Lawrence City Councilors were stunned when Attorney Doreen Zancowski from Hinckley, Allen and Snyder (of State St. in Boston) said she was speaking for the High School Building Construction Committee and testified that there was now a need to take even more land from the Veterans Memorial Stadium. Zancowski told the council that an easement was needed to widen the access road as well as bury cables and wires for Mass. Electric.
But George Collins, Director of Finance, Capital and Special Projects for the Lawrence Schools says, as a member of the School Building Construction Committee, neither he nor the committee knew anything about Zancowski’s appearance before the council.
“We knew nothing about this,” Collins said, adding that “neither the School Building Construction Committee nor the Lawrence School Committee knew anything about this until after Atty. Zancowski went before the council. It is a little embarrassing; people are calling me looking for answers and I really didn’t have any for them.”
Collins said he was blind-sided by Zancowski’s appearance. “I thought she was just going to the council for informational purposes. She has no authority to make any decisions like that. I was told that Councilor Kolofoles had asked Mr. Pruner (from Heery construction) to come to the meeting and that Atty. Zancowski was there to answer questions, not to make this kind of proposal,” continued Collins.
District “B” City Councilor Carlos Matos said he doesn’t see the council granting any more stadium land for the new school saying, “They sent us a memo stating that they were going to narrow the road near the high school. Now, suddenly, an attorney is before us saying they need more stadium land to widen it. I can’t see the council approving this. They told us what they needed and we gave them what they needed.”
Matos said that there has been a serious problem with communication between the School Committee, the contractors, the Building Committee, and elected officials regarding the project.
“There seems to be a serious lack of clarity as to the proper procedures for issues like this,” he said. Asked what would happen if the Council did not grant the additional stadium land for the school, Matos replied, “Well, they’ll just have to figure out something else.”
School Committeeman Amy McGovern agreed that the communication problems are making it nearly impossible to get anything done. “This just shows, once again, that the School Building Committee is dysfunctional and the School Committee is out of touch. Every agenda is the same. People involved with the construction give us a song and dance. We find out everything third hand and after the fact.”
McGovern, who is also a member of the School Building Construction Committee, said she “had no idea” attorney Zancowski was going before the council to ask for more land until she got phone calls the next day. “That’s how this whole project is being run,” she said.
“Nobody has any idea what is really going on.” Lee Balcom, head of the Stadium Restoration Committee, said that from the beginning, the School Department has been trying to take Stadium land inch by inch. Outraged by the latest attempt, he said he knew nothing about it. “We were promised that the Stadium Committee would be included on any decision affecting the Veterans Memorial Stadium. Once again, we were not informed.”
Calls to the Mayor’s office went un-answered, but a member of the Building Construction Committee (on promise of anonymity) said that there has been enormous pressure behind the scenes to give more stadium land to the contractors.
City Council President Patrick Blanchette said that he would oppose the taking of any more Stadium land for any reason. “I don’t have any appetite to give more land no matter what side of the end zone we are talking about. They are taking slice by slice and before you know it, the pie will be gobbled up.” Collins said that the Mayor and the Superintendent are working to establish proper procedures for communication between all parties so that “this doesn’t happen again.”