The Board of Aldermen helped move the Angier rebuilding project one step forward last night as it approved the transfer of the former Carr School to the School Department for use as swing space.
However, Ward 4 Alderman-at-Large Amy Sangiolo urged her fellow board members to not only approve the Carr School swing space, but to also seriously consider purchasing the former Aquinas College on Walnut Park.
"The crux of my concern is that I don't want us to see Carr School as the only swing space that we need," Sangiolo said. "We're going to need two swing spaces [and] it would behoove us to take a look at Aquinas in a fair light."
At a School Committee meeting last month, school administrators and members of the city's Public Buildings Department discussed the possibility of using Aquinas as a swing space instead of Carr. However, officials said Carr was a better fit and more cost-effective, as it is already owned by the city.
The former Carr Elementary school, now called the Newton Cultural Center, was previously under the city's control. It has been transferred to the School Department in order for it to reopen as a school in September 2014 and house students while Angier Elementary is under construction.
The 52,000-square-foot Carr will cost approximately $8-10 million to renovate, city officials say.
School and city officials argued that the Aquinas space, around 94,000 square feet, is much more than the district needs for a temporary elementary school. In addition, Aquinas does not have a gym.
During a School Committee vote last week, Ward 1 committee member Geoff Epstein was the sole member voting against the Carr swing space recommendation, as he argued the committee should look further into purchasing Aquinas.
The School Department has said it will not only use Carr as a swing space for Angier, but possibly during renovations at Cabot, Zervas and Ward Elementary as well.
"Carr is the best scenario moving forward," said Ward 5 Alderman John Rice. "Angier is in deplorable condition. We need to get the kids into a better space."
Sangiolo, though, said it is not a matter of having one school or the other, but instead looking at both Carr and Aquinas buildings for future needs.
The actual school space at Aquinas, Sangiolo added, is only 70,000 square feet, while the convent part of the school makes up the other 20,000 square feet. In addition, Aquinas has a cafeteria where the Carr school does not.
"I'm saying we need both," Sangiolo said. "The reason I think Aquinas is important to have on the table now is if we decide at some point we need it, we don't want it to be too late."
Ward 2 Alderman-at-Large Marcia Johnson echoed some of Sangiolo's comments, agreeing that the city should continue to look into purchasing Aquinas.
"I think we have been negligent in looking at Aquinas as an alternative," Johnson said. "I think we can move forward with Carr [but] I would ask the Executive Department and School Department to look at Aquinas seriously."
Johnson also urged the School Committee to work hard on fixing up the Carr School before moving in students. The exterior appearance and condition of the building, she said, "is really a negative for the neighborhood."
The former elementary school currently houses a number of non-profits and arts organizations, including the Mayor's Office for Cultural Affairs. The city is currently working on a new location for those tenants.