Education in Lowell, MA – The High School

I was listening to a song whose title escapes me, so if any of you recognize the lyrics, send me the name of the song.  Anyway, the song contains the line, “Battle lines being drawn, nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.”  We are having something of that type of battle in Lowell, MA. currently.   Last night, some of it came to a head with a motion that was passed with some exceptions.  The Mayor and another friend of mine, voted against the proposal.  They were excoriated.


There is a proposal in the city to build a new high school.  Where to place it seems to be a question.  Also, construction and transportation of students seem to be unanswerable questions.  The strange thing is that the current high school is performing up to standards as it is currently.  I heard a song today that describes the imbalance; “Battle lines are being drawn, nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.”  That is kind of where we are now.  People from the wealthiest part of the city are vying for construction, while most of the rest are in favor of enhancing the current high school.  It is up to the City Council which hit the skids last night with the Mayor basically telling people that the cost of the new construction will be fifty million more than reconstruction of the old building.  Really, there are three old buildings.  One was built in 1893, one in 1922, and one in 1983.

The 1893 building had the best construction.  It still lasts.  The 1922 building had an asbestos problem back in the 1990’s and six million dollars was spent on ridding the building of the problem, according to a high level retired official.  The 1983 building is the problem.  The building is new, but the construction is not good.  The roof leaks in the gym.  Problems exist with the swimming pool.  That area is basically the problem.

Another song describes the way the problem was handled for years.  I do not know the name of the song, but many of you probably do.  It goes, “Dream on, dream on, dream until your dream comes true.”  If you could tell me who wrote that song I would be happy.  I do not know, I just remember that part of it from the radio.  Anyway, Lowell has sunk some money into the new building, to no avail.  We are basically dreaming until our dream comes true.

The first question I asked in all of this was why we did not sue the 1983 contractor?  That did not go over well.  Millions have been spent on that building and fixing it has never happened.   I pointed it out to John Glenn with pride when it was 1984.  It bombed quickly.  I probably should have asked Senator Glenn for help, but who knew what would happen?

Anyway, as stated, the 1983 building just leaked.  The air conditioning never worked, the heat was a problem, but the building itself handles thousands of students a day.  It looks, smells, and acts like a high school.  I could fit four hundred books into the book racks on the side of the classroom and have thirty five desks for my students.

The one thing I never noticed about that building was that the Chemistry Department did not teach, from my perspective, in the lab rooms.  The lab rooms were not used for laboratory experiments.  People have taken this to be a problem with the labs.  They  seemed fine to me, and I was across the hall from them.  They were used as academic classrooms.  Not as laboratories.  Now, that may be the one lab room across from my homeroom, but I just observed it.  I have no idea if things happened earlier or later.  But one of the reasons for a new high school was the lack of lab time.

I am not certain that the high school needs to be new entirely.  Some problems were intrinsic to the building.  Some were man-made.  Some were caused by outside factors.  Like the lack of air conditioning.  Or the problems with heat in the winter.

I am not totally convinced that Lowell needs a new high school.  I think it does.  But it is not always using the best of the existing structure.  I taught in the 1983 building and I loved it.  I worked almost all of my time in the building and received almost entirely rave reviews.  Perhaps one middle-of-the-road one, but virtually all superior.

It was terrible when I went to see a basketball game in the Fieldhouse and the snow leaked through the roof.  The students could not play.  But that was a symptom, not the disease.  The high school is a high school.  It is big, it needs construction, and it can hold the entire sophomore, junior, and senior classes.   The freshman class takes place in the Freshman Academy.  All of my kids went to Lowell High School, as did I.

The point I am trying to make is that the high school, despite all of its problems, does not need three hundred thirty million dollars in repairs.  It can expand onto land taken in eminent domain cases.  It needs a tunnel to the parking garage.  Three of my fellow teachers got hit by cars trying to cross the walkway and they and the kids need a tunnel.  They need air conditioning, they need adequate heat.  They need a new fieldhouse.  But this is a poor city, with a large immigrant population.  We cannot afford all of the perks being tossed about by the City Fathers.  We cannot afford the fifty million dollars difference in taxes on a newly constructed school.

Finally, Amazon recently put up their world headquarters and it is going to cost an estimated fifty million dollars.  For the entire complex.  We are saying this school should  be made for 350,000,000.00 dollars.  Let us find out what Amazon did.  Maybe we can learn something.

My final word is that we cannot afford to use up any more green space to make school buildings.  If you need a school building, buy the lot and build on the lot, like UMASS-LOWELL does.  We do not have to eat up green space, and we do not have to spend millions of dollars we do not have.  I just paid off my mortgage, and I am looking forward to excessive taxes from this effort.  I was looking forward to a respite, but Lowell does not give them.  The City Council just raised the taxes by 5%.  That is enough of  an increase.