Scituate parent Jen Morrison walked around Gates Intermediate School on a Saturday afternoon, ticking off the building’s problems in rapid succession.
First there were all of the building’s outside doors that have to be manually locked down every night and unlocked every morning. Then there were the fire doors — 25 in all — that are meant to automatically shut in case of a fire to keep the flames from spreading.
According to Morrison, 90 percent of them don’t work, and are instead propped open to allow egress throughout the building.
Not to mention that 90 percent of the 95,437-square-foot building does not have sprinklers.
“The potential for a real disaster is kind of huge,’’ Morrison said, “and when you think of it in those terms, you don’t want to have children here.”
Morrison, cochairwoman of Friends of Scituate’s Future, is pushing for solutions to the deficiencies at Gates. The way Scituate addresses these issues will strongly influence the future of the school system and the town as a whole.
On Tuesday, Town Meeting will decide whether to appropriate $750,000 for a feasibility study on whether to build a new Gates school or renovate the building. The decision would be the first step toward a master plan that could alter the makeup of the town’s public buildings and schools for decades to come.
Town officials have an idea of what that master plan would look like, and it could involve moving Town Hall into a renovated Gates building, demolishing the current Town Hall and police station to build a middle school there, and relocating the public safety complex elsewhere in town.
Those ideas, however, are in the distant future. What parents like Morrison are concerned about is the here and now.
Morrison joined other members of the Friends for Scituate’s Future to point out all the problems as they led tours this month of the Gates School for scores of parents and interested citizens.
At the nearly 100-year-old building, most windows don’t work properly; the heater is fairly new, but the heating system is outdated; air purifiers don’t work; additions made in 1929, 1952, and 1959 are riddled with problems; and the handicap accessibility in the building is either comically complex or frustratingly difficult.
Morrison welcomed the vote on the feasibility study as the first step toward obtaining funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority. “First of all, we would look at, ‘Can we renovate this building for a school?’ No one is jumping to the conclusion that we cannot renovate it as a school and it has to become Town Hall,” she said.
School Superintendent John McCarthy said the Massachusetts School Building Authority requires that a feasibility study be performed before the town can proceed with next steps of a renovation or reconstruction with the state’s help.
The goal is to have the state fund 40 to 45 percent of whatever path the town chooses.
A feasibility study would also enable Scituate to look at all its schools to determine what the educational needs of the town are and what kinds of buildings are needed to support that.
“We’ll create the vision for all the schools,” McCarthy said. “Though we’re focusing on Gates, it will really be about all the schools.”
The Cushing, Hatherly, and Wompatuck schools are also in the 50- to 60-year-old range, and in need of repair, McCarthy said.
While the feasibility study would not raise tax rates right now, as the funding would come from existing revenue sources within the town, the project, if approved, could lead to higher taxes in the future.
“Eventually [the town] will have to do something. One thing that’s positive is [Scituate has] very little debt. . . . It’s a good time for Scituate to be looking at this,’’ McCarthy said.
“The other two advantages are construction costs are relatively low compared to what they could be. It’s a very competitive time to be building. And interest rates are very low. Borrowing money is a lot less expensive than it was five to 10 years ago. For those reasons, this is the perfect time for Scituate to be looking at a project.”
For parent Terri Martini, owner of Front Street Gourmet, the state of the school and the idea of the overall cost of fixing or replacing it are both troubling.
“It’s overwhelming, it seems like there is an awful amount of work,’' she said.
“Don’t get me wrong — this community is wonderful. Being a business owner, I get to know a lot of people . . . and I know that community involvement is huge once they are aware. Being aware of what’s going on around here, people will rally,” Martini said. “[But] I’m concerned about it, this isn’t hundreds of dollars; this is millions of dollars.”Continued...