As the City and Schools move ahead on planning the new McKinley School, an old argument is resurfacing all over again.
Hill Park has long been an area for recreation – a park named after a World War II veteran who died in action – but as the planning for the McKinley takes off this January, the old Park is once again being discussed as a school site.
The idea for building a larger McKinley School on the Hill Park site was first discussed in 2010, but was quickly batted back by opposition from the Hill Family – which is still very active in the city and operates a real estate company on Broadway.
Likewise, State Rep. Kathi-Anne Reinstein (D-Revere) – whose late father is the namesake of half of the park – also vehemently disagreed with the idea back then.
Now, led by Superintendent Paul Dakin, Ward 4 City Councillor Stephen Reardon and handful of other councillors, the idea is being brought back.
Reardon has recently become a heavy figure weighing in on the discussion – speaking out at a recent Council meeting for considering Hill Park as an idea. His input is made that much more important as he is the area’s ward councillor.
At a meeting just before Thanksgiving last year, Reardon indicated that it was time to start thinking about Hill Park. He said that despite political pressures, the site needed to be considered.
Reardon told the Journal in recent comments that the City should not ignore Hill Park in the discussion of a new school, and that perhaps the park could be relocated to private property in a reasonably similar area. He said that with enrollment numbers skyrocketing, it would only be wise to consider the idea of building a much larger school at Hill Park, and moving the park to a location nearby.
Superintendent Paul Dakin seconded those comments recently, agreeing that the conversation needed to include Hill Park as a possibility.
“If it were to go to 550 kids, the McKinley would exist on its current site with land takings,” said Dakin. “I think people, though, should be open enough to consider Hill Park and not just react with a ‘no’ on emotion. If we can’t eliminate things because they’re not the best solution and not because they don’t like it at the first thought of something, then I don’t think we have done due diligence for planning into the future…If it gets eliminated as an idea because it’s not universally a good solution, okay, but to eliminate it without thinking about it first is a big mistake.”
Not so fast, though, says Rep. Reinstein, who told the Journal that there’s something taboo about taking away a park named after a veteran in a time of war.
“We have to stop erasing history in this city,” said Reinstein. “I love it when local people and local history are connected to our buildings and parks and other public spaces…We need to sit down and have conversations and discussions. I’ve not sat down with anyone yet except the Hill Family. How do we want to take a park away from a Vet in a time of war? There’s something very, very wrong with that. I look forward to more conversations on this in the new year.”
Others who are involved have said they are skittish to think about taking the park because it could end up costing valuable time and delay the new McKinley by many months.
As an example, in building the new Whelan School and the Susan B. Anthony Middle School, the Schools had to work through a long process with the federal government to replace the parkland. That process was littered with red tape and took a fair amount of negotiating.
The same process would probably have to be repeated if Hill Park were actually chosen as a building site, and it could delay replacing the old McKinley by many months.
However, in the end, Dakin said it would be the state’s School Building Authority (SBA) that would most likely determine and develop any discussion about Hill Park becoming a school site.
“It will all flush out in the Schematic Design and Feasibility Study with the MSBA,” said Dakin. “They are aware of our numbers and the numbers will dictate the capacity of the school. If they feel the needs of the district are better served with a larger school, then they will look to Hill Park as much as we will.”
Reinstein said she felt, in the end, that she would be against taking any existing park for a school.
“I don’t think we should be looking at a park that’s named for a veteran that died young,” she said. “Hill Park shouldn’t be looked at as a big slab of land to be taken. There’s a big difference between open park space and private property that is vacant.