The Case for Fixing the High School

We have been inundated with information about building a new high school.  Much of the frustration lies in the 1980’s building which is in severe disrepair.  We are floating amounts of money around that are incredibly high, up to five hundred million dollars according to some estimates.  A fair amount, according to some sources, is in the high two hundred million dollar range.  I went to Lowell High School and graduated before the 1980’s building was completed.  My father is cited on the wall which lists the current and past members of the School Committee who were responsible for the 1980’s building.  The Computer Laboratory on the second floor is named for him.

I firmly believe that the city cannot afford a 100,000,000.00 dollar bill for its part in building the new high school and I would like to propose that we build up on the current 1980’s building.  According to the Lowell “Sun,” we are looking at a $300 million to 330 million dollar bill from the state.  It may be me, but I do not believe that that money will come without some strings attached.  We cannot afford any attempt by the state to decrease the amount they will give to us.  And, I believe that is a real possibility.  The state is known for reneging on its promised amounts.

Let us look at the Cawley site.  Estimates for the building of a new high school reach in the vicinity of that 300 to 330 million dollar amount.   Even if we were able to build on city-owned land, the amount would require us to buy out at market rate any commercial building that was in our way.  That would be in the millions of dollars.  It is a state law, according to my sources.

I taught at the high school for fifteen years.  I got to be in the 1980’s building.  It was tight, and not air conditioned.  In fact, it was not that well heated.   But it was a working classroom that had enough room for a 400 book library.  I really enjoyed it, even when I had difficult students.  The books were stored in bookcases against the wall and were gifts of the City of Lowell Library.  They let us pick out relevant books after their annual book sale.  We got some great histories and biographies.  Across the hall were the never used, it seemed to me anyway, Science Laboratories.  People used those rooms for regular classes.  It was a misuse of the room’s relevance.  The room was built for science experiments.  It was not used for that.

They needed rooms for fluency in the languages that were taught.  They needed rooms for science experiments, they needed classrooms.  These were things that they did not have.  What they primarily needed and used these rooms for, was classrooms.  But, I was in a classroom and I taught U.S. History very comfortably.  I even got to talk about John Randolph’s  comment about Henry Clay, the best put-down ever used, “Like a mackeral by moonlight he shines yet stinks.”  Students loved that type of thing.

I am not convinced that all rooms in the high school are being used to the best of their planned usage.  I am not sure that building a new school would take care of the problems in Lowell High School.  I have the utmost respect and faith in Headmaster Brian Martin and his assistant, Dr. Roxanne Howe.  We need to expand the science and guidance areas.  We need to look for possible classrooms not being used as such step-by-step.  We need more classrooms, we do not need a new high school.

The Freshman Academy is doing well, and the STEM project needs to expand to its full size in the Rogers School.  That would take some of the weight off of the high school.  STEM is a program that works closely with the goals of a four year Science degree at UMASS-Lowell and Middlesex Community College.   Some students could take classes at Middlesex in their Senior year.  Some students could take required courses in conjunction with UMASS-Lowell.   That is not unthinkable.  Some students could intern with local politicians or Lowell City Hall.  Use of these existing projects could relieve some of the overcrowding.

I find Steve Gendron to be of great value in his ability to concentrate on building school projects to do things like taking care of parks and historic structures.  He did that in his years on the City Council and his pattern still exists in this city.  A volunteer group dedicated to the city would be highly treasured.

Lowell High School is not dead yet.  We can use the 300 million dollars to fix the leaking roof, put in the air conditioners in all of the existing buildings, and fix the heating areas.  According to former Headmaster, William Samaras, asbestos has been removed from the building.  That is a multi-million dollar project which has been done.

The fact remains that the high school is still a living, breathing entity.  It needs millions of dollars to bring it to fruition.  It should stay downtown because that is where the learning starts.  Under this high school administration, students are testing better, sports is still one of the most desired spheres, and good teachers teach students who go on to Harvard, and M.I.T., as well as other schools like Tufts.  I personally was accepted to study at Yale, Boston College, Boston University, the University of Iowa, and the American University of Jerusalem.  Jerusalem offered me full tuition reimbursement.  Convincing my parents to allow one of their children to study in Jerusalem was more than they wanted to handle, however.  I don’t know why.

The gist of this diatribe is to say that we do not need a completely new Lowell High School.  Thousands of our students want to attend LHS and walk to their school, which saves us tens of millions of dollars in busing transportation  each year.  We have a system which dates back for at least as long as I have been in Lowell.  The system works.  Some tweaks have to be implemented.  Let’s implement them and keep the high school where it is, doing what it is doing, which is educating our students.  I still have students see me on TV or listen to me on the radio and they still call me “Mr. Peters.”  The respect for the educational system drops down to the lowest financial level.  My students work, they shop, they are Lowell.  Moving them will exacerbate a difficult situation.  Lowell High educated seven of my brothers and sisters, and they are all doing well.  One went on to garner three Master’s degrees, many of us got Master’s degrees.  One owns a bed and breakfast in Machias, Maine.  One has been working as a computer programmer for an insurance company for thirty years.  She is brilliant.  I am doing well.  With all of these successes, shared by many families in this city, it is a puzzle as to why we need to totally reconstruct our high school.  It stands where it is, and like the 1893 building, it is perfectly fine.  I think it is too bad to see the newest building giving us the most headaches, but for  a few tens of millions of dollars, it can be fixed.  Let’s fix it.