There was a time when Revere Public Schools had no shortage of properties and schools – boasting some 18 properties in its envelope of schools just a few short decades ago.
In fact, there were so many surplus schools in the late 1970s and early 1980s, that the City couldn’t get rid of them fast enough – most of them being sold off to developers for multi-unit housing.
Fast forward to 2013 and the schools are so land-poor that as soon as they finish a new school, they’re desperately looking for property to build another. That situation was especially highlighted with the McKinley School (now Hill School) debate where a public park in the center of the city had to be taken in order to build the new school – not to mention all of the extra land accommodations that had to be put in place to make it happen.
With that in mind, many wonder (with the help of hindsight being 20/20) if getting rid of properties like the Wolcott School on North Shore Road, the Shurtleff School on School Street, the Barrows School on Mountain Avenue and the Waite School in North Revere was such a good idea.
School Committeeman Fred Sannella – a former educator who was involved in the process of getting rid of properties in the 1980s – said the large number of schools was a product of Revere going from a farming community to a residential city.
“Most of those schools were the same age as the McKinley School and they were built at the turn of the last Century and they were formed on the neighborhood concept,” he said. “As the city expanded from farming, new schools followed. They ended up with 17 or 18 schools at one time. Schools were a vital part of the neighborhoods in that time.”
Sannella said the City probably made a mistake in getting rid of so many properties in the 1970s and 1980s. However, he also said some of the schools were probably not worth saving, and in those times, the school population was on a major decline.
Many school classrooms were nearly empty, and combining schools made sense when it came to saving on utilities and other fixed costs. However, Sannella holds that maybe some schools could have been saved.
“The Roosevelt School in the Pines was completely rehabbed after the Blizzard of `78 and I thought it would have been perfect for the Superintendent’s Office, but they got rid of it anyway,” he said. “Now, 30 years later, they’re going crazy looking for space to put the Superintendent’s Office.”
He added, “They definitely made a mistake in not keeping some of those properties. Even if the sties were simply used for off-street parking in snow emergencies, it would have proven worth it now. Unfortunately the mindset of government in those days was to get rid of it. I think it didn’t show a lot of insight…Getting things on the tax rolls was important then. They even had vacant lots they sold for $300. The same for the old schools, being sold mostly to developers. Unfortunately, the taxes don’t end up paying for all the services. That was the misconception.”
However, Councillor Bob Haas – who was a city councillor at the time the schools were mostly sold off – said the City didn’t make any mistakes. He said no one could have predicted the boom in students that exists today, and at the time the old schools were sucking up money unnecessarily.
“I don’t think they made a mistake,” he said. “At the time, no one could have predicted the tremendous influx of students. Even if you had boarded them up securely, I don’t think any of them would have met the criteria set by the state for a modern school. If you tried to open it now after all these years, they likely wouldn’t be able to.
“People like to say, ‘Why did you tear them down?’” Haas continued. “’We should have saved them’ they say. It’s easy to say now, but I don’t know if it’s that easy.”
Superintendent Paul Dakin said he didn’t believe any of the old schools would have been useful, nor would the properties – many of which are too small for a modern school.
“They did sell all those properties, but in all honesty, I don’t know that any of them would be appropriate to be used as a school nowadays,” he said. “They didn’t have cafeterias or gyms or pick up/drop off areas. It’s a whole different operation now than when those buildings were built. They didn’t have cafeterias in those days because all kids brown bagged it or just went home for lunch. The fact the City sold them off probably wasn’t a mistake, as I don’t know that any of them could function as a modern learning environment. To my recollection, even the properties were squared in like the Garfield and Lincoln are now.”
Sannella said he hopes that a lesson from the past is learned with the old McKinley School if it is mothballed for a few years. He said many of the old schools that were boarded up ended up burning very shortly after they were discontinued, including old Revere High School.
“I just hope the old McKinley is secure when the kids move to the new Hill School,” he said. “I just don’t want it to meet the fate of the other schools that closed down and then burnt down soon afterward.”