A few weeks ago, over in the A section of this paper, my colleague Ben Pierce chronicled the ongoing saga of the Coffin School, with the Select Board and the School Committee wrestling over control of the abandoned building. Select Board Chair Erin Nooan wanted the committee to turn the building over to the town, with an eye toward using it to come into compliance with the state’s MBTA communities law, which requires communities with commuter rail service, or those adjacent to it, to zone for a certain number of new multifamily housing units. But, for the committee, the prospect of new housing meant the potential need to expand the footprint of the town’s school system.
The dispute was nothing new for Marblehead.
The very first edition of “Back in Time” (or “Blast from the Past” as we’ve dubbed it) chronicled a discussion of the future of the Gerry School, with selectmen in 1983 considering the possibility of leasing the aging school building to a private nursery school in town. That motion failed, and the school was ultimately kept open another 35 years before closing in 2018. Then, it was sold and set to be converted into luxury condos.
Later that year, S=selectmen debated the future of the Story School on Elm Street. A decision on its future was intended to be made this time 40 years ago, but the board ultimately delayed a vote after what The Daily Evening Item described as “wide differences of opinion” emerged.
The board was set to vote on a sale of the property after reviewing bids from seven developers, who emerged as finalists from a broader pool of 13 bidders. But, Selectman William Conly moved to table the vote and then announced he would be out of town for two weeks, further delaying a decision. Selectman Arnold Alexander chided Conly for knowing he would not be present to participate in a “highly important decision.”
Chairman Thomas McNulty told The Item he would be willing to delay the vote until Conly’s return.
“Apparently, Mr. Conly believes we do not respect his choice of the candidates. But this is untrue. I think the board should be provided with whatever input he has. For that reason, I believe we should not act on the question until his return,” McNulty said. “We’ve taken a long time to make this selection because of its long-term importance to the community, especially the neighborhood. I see no reason why a delay of a couple of weeks would make any significant difference when we have already taken a long time to make the right decision for the overall good of the town and the neighborhood.”
At the time, speculation abounded about what the board would ultimately opt to do with the school. Rumor had it that the three top candidates were the low bidder, with an $80,000 bid and a proposal calling for the development of six residential condos to sell for $150,000; a $120,000 bid for eight condos in the same $150,000 price range; and the high bidder, proposing $350,000 for the development of 10 condos priced from $90,000 to $150,000. The sale ultimately went to the high bidder, Morris Associates of Marblehead, which, by that point, had trimmed its bid to $280,000 and eight condos.