MARBLEHEAD — The Marblehead School Committee continued discussion on the future of the Coffin School property at their latest meeting on Thursday, Oct. 6. After more than 20 minutes of discussion, a motion by Chair Sarah Fox to declare the school necessary for educational purposes and to not turn control of the building back over to the town passed 3-2.
Committee member Jenn Schaeffner began the conversation at the meeting by expressing that she feels the potential creation of new housing in town by the Housing Production Plan Implementation Committee could create a need for more educational space as well.
“There is clearly a desire by the town to produce more housing. In fact there’s a plan,” Schaeffner said. “So if that’s the case, that’s potentially more students.”
She added that her Committee should have a discussion with other groups who are involved with the development of the community zoning plan so they have a better idea of the specific details.
Fox echoed Schaeffner’s sentiments and stated that the Committee must plan for the maximum allowable amount of new residential units as opposed to the eventual actual number the town eventually reaches.
“I think it is grossly irresponsible of this Committee to talk about taking property offline when we don’t know the outcome of this vote at town meeting,” Fox said.
Committee member Meagan Taylor, who along with Brian Ota voted against the motion of retaining the property, responded by insisting that her fellow Committee members have a legitimate plan for the Coffin School if they plan on holding onto it.
“In the meantime, what are we doing with that property?,” Taylor asked. “It’s such a major liability and in all honesty I’ve been asking about this property for two years now. We have to have a plan for it… It’s just sitting there and we’re waiting for something bad to happen.”
Fox suggested charging the Facilities Subcommittee with the task of surveying the current state of the property and giving a recommendation on how to proceed with the facilities of it.
The impetus for this week’s discussion comes on the heels of an email from Select Board and Housing Production Plan Implementation Committee Chair Erin Noonan sent to the Committee encouraging them to release control of the property. Noonan feels that turning over control of the property back to the town has economic benefits as well as the potential to create more housing opportunities as the town tries to reach compliance with the MBTA zoning bylaw.
“Personally, I am disappointed in the vote to retain the Coffin property,” Noonan said. “The school at Turner Road has been decommissioned and the property now represents a great opportunity for open space, community gardens, and to improve upon limited diversity in housing options in town beyond single-family homes. It’s a 3-acre parcel of land with no plan for the foreseeable future as a school. It continues to fall into disrepair and is not adding value to the neighborhood or the public at large. As a member of both the Housing Production Plan Implementation Committee and the Fair Housing Committee, the property has been identified as an opportunity to address unmet housing needs for the evolving demographics of the town.”
After Noonan’s email to the School Committee was published in the Marblehead Current, Fox released a follow-up statement in response.
“The majority of the School Committee stated strongly, strategic planning is necessary with regard to the schools being able to meet the needs of Marblehead students if this major zoning change were to occur,” Fox said. “A potential population shift of that magnitude requires subject matter experts to provide data driven projections. Committee members stated it would be irresponsible for the committee to declare the property as surplus without this very important information. The lack of a town wide master plan was also stated during deliberations as a reason for the School Committee to not sponsor a warrant article until more is known so as to provide more security in meeting the needs of Marblehead students in the future.”