Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker Friday approved a plan that would allow the city of Lowell to replace its existing high school with a new $340 million campus on the site of Cawley Stadium.
The Lowell Sun reports that Baker signed off on a home-rule provision that calls for Lowell to replace fields at the stadium if a new high school is built there. The fields at Cawley are protected by conservation restrictions in the state constitution, and in order to remove those protections Lowell must replicate the open space elsewhere.
The city is seeking approval from the Massachusetts School Building Authority to build the school at Cawley. The authority's board of directors is scheduled to vote in August on the application. The project, which will be partly reimbursed by the authority, will be one of the most expensive high school building projects in Massachusetts.
The issue has been a divisive sticking point for Lowell residents for nearly two years, The Boston Herald reports. The options were narrowed to a $352.2 million renovation of the existing high school or a new $340 million building at Cawley Stadium, which would require more bus service.
U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas urged the city to rebuild on the existing downtown site instead of building at Cawley. Tsongas lives near Cawley, and the letter was also signed by University of Massachusetts President Martin T. Meehan, who used to live in the same neighborhood.
Tsongas called for renovations to the existing 1920s high school downtown because it’s “centrally located with generally equidistant access for students across the city’s many neighborhoods.”
Last month, after more than six hours of contentious debate, the Lowell City Council voted 5 to 4 to support building a new school at Cawley Stadium rather than rebuild on the existing campus.
After Lowell Mayor Edward Kennedy, who supports a downtown school, suggested the Lowell School Committee might have authority under the city charter to approve or reject the council's decision, the committee voted 5-1 in favor of keeping the school downtown. It urged the City Council to put the issue before voters as a ballot question. The city's lawyer, however, issued a legal opinion that the decision was the City Council's alone.
Opponents of the Cawley site hope the School Building Authority will direct the city to hold a ballot vote. Meanwhile, those in favor of the Cawley site worry that the continued fighting might prompt the authority to withdraw its support altogether.