State Commits $210 Million to Lowell High School Project
BOSTON -- A year and a half after the Massachusetts School Building Authority postponed its vote to fund the Lowell High School project, the board approved the project’s scope and budget Wednesday morning.
“I just want to thank the board for the great patience that they’ve shown over the past two years on this project,” said City Councilor and state Senator Ed Kennedy. “I think the first time that I came here on this project was when I was mayor. It was some two years ago. I’m here to report it was all worth the wait.”
With little discussion, the board approved the $343.4 million project, with $210 million in funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority or MSBA.
“Onward and upward,” said Deborah Goldberg, state treasurer and chair of the MSBA.
City Council will vote on the project scope and budget on April 23. Two weeks later, City Council will hold a public hearing on the roughly $130 million loan order to cover the city’s share. Following a required 20 day waiting period, City Manager Eileen Donoghue said City Council is expected to vote on the loan order on May 28. To pass, the proposal requires a two-thirds vote.
Approval from the Massachusetts School Building Authority moves the contentious process of renovating and adding on to Lowell High School forward. Questions over the location of the school split the city, with some officials pushing to build a new high school at Cawley Stadium and others calling for the school to stay in the footprint of its current downtown location.
When the MSBA postponed voting on the high school in August 2017, plans for the high school sited the building at Cawley Stadium. During the delay, proponents of the downtown location assembled a slate of candidates and ballot referendum in favor of their position. The downtown location won by a wide margin on the ballot referendum and City Council elected that November promised to keep the school downtown.
Meanwhile, opponents have continued to raise concerns over the possible hidden costs of updating the high school’s aging buildings and a nearby downtown medical office has fought the taking of the space for the project by eminent domain.
However, Kennedy - who was mayor in fall 2017 and a proponent of the downtown location -- said the extra time has given time for the “vibe in the city” for the project to strengthen.
Mayor William Samaras said the proposed school provides a “level playing field” for the students of many different background who attend Lowell Public Schools.
“It will also give the teachers the tools that they need to teach those programs,” Samaras said. “Also the school will become, I believe, a community center and it doesn’t get better than that.”
The project includes a new gym, five-story Freshman Academy building, a quad, rooftop garden and a newly designed entry, according to a presentation last month. Construction is scheduled to begin in June 2021 and wrap up in July 2026.
City Manager Eileen Donoghue thanked the MSBA for the approval and partnership with the city,
“This is a tremendously transformative project,” Donoghue said. “We’re very excited about it.”
School Committee members Dominik Lay and Robert Hoey Jr. also attended the meeting and said they were happy with the outcome.