NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

September 30, 2013

Brown School eyed for youth center

BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
STAFF WRITER

---- — NEWBURYPORT — The Brown School, until recently considered a candidate for conversion to affordable housing, could be earmarked as a youth center and school administrative offices when it closes in June, city officials say.

And in a separate matter related to the school property, city councilors today will be asked to dedicate part of the property “permanently for public park and playground uses.”

The Brown is scheduled to close in June, and youngsters will attend the new Bresnahan School on High Street in September.

Mayor Donna Holaday and City Council President Tom O’Brien favor a closing (and sale) of the Kelley School and a repurposing of the Brown School.

In recent months Holaday and others have investigated whether the Brown could be converted to affordable housing, which municipal leaders are attempting to encourage.

But Holaday recently said that conversion to housing is no longer at the forefront of discussion. It would be too expensive and perhaps unpopular with neighborhood residents.

The thinking goes that youth activities currently held at the Kelley School could be moved to the Brown.

The Brown School has a gymnasium. Also, city officials appear committed to developing a playground for youngsters at the rear of the Brown School property.

When aging wooden playground equipment was removed last spring, almost 500 residents desperate for a play area petitioned the city to buy new equipment and keep the playground open.

Holaday and the City Council identified $20,000 in the budget, and a new playground was installed.

City officials say they are keeping costs in mind while weighing the future of the Brown and the Kelley. (Municipal observers say that the Kelley School, only about half of which is utilized, is expensive to operate.)

“It would cost a lot of money to convert the Brown into housing,” said Holaday last week. “And we want to have a park in the South End.

“Plus, the gym at the Brown is a valuable asset for all age groups.”

Holaday, who is chair of the School Committee, added that administrative offices might be moved from the Nock/Molin complex to the Brown.

“We need more room at the Nock,” said Holaday. “We want more academic programs, including expanding our languages offering.

“If administration offices are moved to the Brown, we’d have more flexibility at Nock for class planning.”

Tom O’Brien, president of the City Council, recently said, “The Kelley needs a lot of work and the city should not put a lot of money into it. Move all the activities to the Brown such as Youth Service and they could even move the superintendent and all of their offices and this would free up valuable space for the Nock-Molin.

“The youth could use the playground and all of the facilities and then the Brown will not be sold. This would be best for the neighborhood and the city.”

City officials say that if youth services do move to the Brown, transportation would have to be addressed.

Lisa Bleicken, who headed a citizen’s petition effort to reserve part of the property for a park, said, “Our group would be pleased with and supportive of the reuse of the Brown School for administrative school offices, youth services, etc.”

She said she was aware of the item on the City Council’s agenda today that addresses the matter.

Numerous students from the Nock and the high school walk to the Kelley after school to participate in activities there.

“We would have to deal with transportation,” said Holaday. “But we can talk with the bus company, and we can consider transportation by van.”

The Brown School is scheduled to be discussed today at a regular meeting of the City Council.

Regarding a park for youngsters on the property, councilors Greg Earls and Ari Herzog have submitted a formal request to the council that part of the Brown property be permanently held for recreational use.

Their order reads in part, “that upon the sale, lease or removal from service as a public school ... the city of Newburyport shall dedicate and hold permanently for public park and playground uses ... an area of such site that is at least equal in size to the school yard currently located on the southeasterly portion of the site, including the mulched area for play equipment, the basketball court and the so-called amphitheater.”

The order is subject to “any and all votes” required by the Newburyport School Committee.