AMESBURY — The City Council voted 5-4 on Tuesday not to adopt a resolution stating opposition to building a new elementary school at Woodsom Farm.
When Amesbury was a town, it purchased the 354-acre Woodsom Farm property for $5 million in 1988. The purchase was made “for general municipal purposes.”
The architectural firm DiNisco Design has pegged roughly six acres of Woodsom as a potential site for a new elementary school.
Concerned about a potential negative public reaction to the Woodsom plan that might derail the project, Councilors Nick Wheeler and Pam Gilday co-sponsored the nonbinding resolution that would allow the full council to state its opposition.
Wheeler and Gilday were joined by Councilors Steve Stanganelli and Matt Einson in voting for the resolution, while Councilors Christian Scorzoni, Mary Louise Bartley, Joe McMilleon, Donna McClure and Rick Marggraf voted against.
Roughly 50 residents packed a warm City Hall on Tuesday night and were given time to speak before the council voted.
Carpenter Street resident Walter Johnstone was the first of many to speak in favor of the resolution.
“The one thing that makes Amesbury beautiful is Woodsom Farm,” Johnstone said. “So let’s take Woodsom Farm and let’s throw in a parking lot. Let’s put some yellow school buses on it. Let’s put some light poles up with shining lights. Let’s put up a two-story, three-story building. Whatever we have left, I leave that answer up to you.”
Unicorn Circle resident Bruce Georgian said he believes Mayor Ken Gray and the School Building Committee have already determined the new school would be built at the Woodsom Farm site.
“If you do build on Woodsom, you are probably going to get opposition to that and that is not a good thing to do,” Georgian said.
Former City Councilor Bob Lavoie and current School Committee member Peter Hoyt spoke out against the resolution.
“(Woodsom Farm) was not bought as an open space preserve,” Lavoie said. “It is not hallowed or sacred ground,” adding that the farm “is a big place.”
“Taking six little acres to put an elementary school on is at least worth talking (about) and considering,” Lavoie said.
Gray, a vocal critic of the resolution, said he expects the School Committee to vote on the new school’s grade configuration Aug. 6 and intends to hold a public forum to solicit more community input on the project before then.
“There was another site we are looking at which is possible but it is privately held and it is way too early to be talking about that,” Gray said. “I will tell you it is very difficult to find other sites in town to put a school on.”
The mayor said Amesbury Elementary School’s current South Hampton Road site is the preferred location for the new school but he does not want to receive state money and have nowhere to build a school.
“That would be a tragedy and we really don’t want to let that happen,” he said.
Wheeler stated his case before the City Council took its vote.
“This is a $60 million project,” Wheeler said. “This is bigger than I was expecting and I want to make sure that everyone is going into this with open eyes.”
Stating he is “not thrilled with a Woodsom option,” Scorzoni spoke of his interest in expanding the Cashman Elementary School site, which abuts Woodsom Farm.
“I don’t want to necessarily scrap Woodsom entirely,” Scorzoni said. “Looking at the Woodsom option, we may find out we may need it, or parts of it, to deal with the Cashman option. I understand the concerns people have here regarding Woodsom, I want people to understand that. That being said, I am not there yet on taking it completely off of the table.”
Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.