The Lowell City Council has been tasked with one of the most important decisions it has faced in many years—the future of Lowell High School and its students. As the former headmaster of Lowell High School, this debate is certainly not a new one for me. Truthfully, I had long advocated the consideration of a campus style school at the Cawley Stadium complex. This led to many spirited debates with my mentor, Dr. Patrick Mogan, who always steadfastly championed the value of an urban education that used the city—Lowell’s nationally renowned downtown in particular—as a classroom.
I know whichever choice I make, there will be people who have a different opinion—and I respect that. Whenever facing a decision of this importance, I have always sought the counsel of many community leaders, but even that advice has been split on this issue. However, the best advice I received was to approach this decision the same way I approached being the headmaster—always put the needs of the students first.
In making this choice, I identified three priorities for making a decision. #1. What best meets the needs of students of Lowell High School? #2. How will this impact their future and the future of the City of Lowell? #3. What are the short term and long term economic ramifications of this decision?
The benefits to building at Cawley Stadium are simple. This plan would call for a brand new building near the athletic fields that would generally meet most of the needs stated by the educational plan.
However, this option comes with a number of drawbacks as well. First, the required infrastructure improvements to the area surrounding the Cawley site are both numerous and costly and will certainly involve governmental land taking in order to be feasible. Further, bussing is perhaps the most lasting concern. If we were to bus the students at a reasonable starting time, it would cost at least $3 million annually. In an attempt to negate this cost, plans are being considered to create a three-tiered system that will change the starting times of most if not every school. Everyone must realize that the state does not require bussing be provided to high school students and any decision made by this council in regards to bussing cannot even be guaranteed in future years. That is a major concern of mine. It goes without saying that without a realistic bussing plan, accessibility to the Cawley site could be problematic to a majority of Lowell High School families. Couple these factors with the plan’s displacement of many of the athletic fields, which also will require additional taxpayer dollars and the non-campus like design of a five-story building, both of which are being done in order to lessen the educational footprint just in an effort to create more parking spaces, this is not the Cawley campus I envisioned.
To be fair, Downtown Option 3 comes with its own challenges. Just like the Cawley stadium options, this plan will also require land taking. The taking of property by eminent domain is indeed a challenge—but of course one that the City of Lowell has never shied away from before. Historically, land has been taken for the building of parking garages, parks, and arenas. Do our children deserve any less?
The Option 3 plan will allow for the construction of brand new buildings without impacting the daily life or safety of the students and will ultimately result in the creation of a centrally located high school campus in the heart of downtown Lowell—and do so at a lesser cost to the taxpayers of Lowell than any Cawley Stadium options. It has additional benefits over Options 1 & 2 in that it minimizes disruption for the current student body—not just at Lowell High School but throughout the entire school system.
The plan also expands the high school footprint through additional campus green space. I feel this option truly meets the academic, social, cultural, and economic needs of all students, giving them a level playing field to be the best they can be.
On this issue, my position is unique. Simply put, I was Lowell High School’s headmaster. For 19 years, Lowell High School was my life. My views are therefore not only based on the information I’ve received during the council information process, but also very much formed by my experiences at the school and the many LHS graduates who have in recent months approached me with firsthand accounts of their own experiences at Lowell High and the opportunities gained because of its location. These students overwhelmingly supported keeping the high school downtown.
The City of Lowell and Lowell High School have what I call a symbiotic relationship that I have not seen in any other city. It has allowed my students to take advantage of the many support programs that are located in the downtown. It has also allowed for students to participate in many after school activities both in the school and in the downtown. It has a created a synergy with Pollard Memorial Library, Middlesex Community College, and the University of Massachusetts Lowell that few high schools have in the entire country. The partnerships that we have with the many businesses in the downtown has also led to the creation of one of the best scholarship programs of any public high school, which is now closing in on $5 million in endowed funds.
It’s also important to look back at history. From its inception, Lowell High School has played an important role in Lowell’s story. Our forefathers valued an accessible public education. It was first public co-ed high school in the country. It was the first integrated high school in the state if not the country. Access to education has always been a priority at Lowell High School.
The reality is Lowell High School has been an integral part of the fabric of Lowell. It is part of our history; it is part of our future. The advice I have for the new incoming principal of Lowell High School is that he or she continues the synergetic approach that expands our relationships with UMass Lowell and Middlesex Community College, our partnerships with the Lowell Plan, and many of the other businesses and organizations in the downtown. That creates a unique vision for the city of the Lowell that surpasses anything that a suburban campus could offer.
Fifty years ago, Pat Mogan had a vision and saw the potential for Downtown Lowell when few others did. He saw that education and economic vitality truly go hand in hand. The original goal of National Park effort was to create an “Educative City.” Over the past decades, as the downtown has revitalized itself, Lowell High School has thrived at the center of it all. I see no reason to abandon that vision today. For our students, Lowell High School is a true microcosm of today’s world—and tomorrow’s future. Therefore, after giving this matter a great deal of thought and study, I earnestly believe that Option 3 will be the best choice for the students of Lowell High School.