EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 1, 2013

Salem voters to consider selling former school

Former Foss School, much more on tap at tomorrow's deliberative session

By Doug Ireland

---- — SALEM — Outside, the paint is peeling and the building looks dilapidated. Inside, most of the rooms are empty.

Yesterday, the town Human Services Department moved out of the former Mary Foss School — home to several social service agencies for many years.

Tomorrow, voters will debate whether to sell the 88-year-old building.

The proposed sale is just one of 22 warrant articles residents will consider at the town deliberative session. They can debate and amend the articles before voting on them March 12. The deliberative session begins at 9 a.m. at Salem High School.

Voters will review proposals that include spending $1.1 million to repair two deteriorating bridges on Bluff Street and Providence Hill Road, and $250,000 for a new ambulance. The 22 articles total $46 million, including a $37.5 million operating budget.

A proposal to spend $5.6 million to improve several roads is also on the warrant. The roads include Pond Street, Sand Hill Road and Stiles Road.

Town Manager Keith Hickey and selectmen have urged voters to approve the $37.5 million budget instead of the $36.9 million default budget.

The default budget would mean a $700,000 cut in town employees and services, leading to a severe impact on the town, Hickey told senior citizens last week.

But yesterday, the town’s focus was on vacating the 7,479-square-foot former school and relocating the Human Services Department to Town Hall.

The former school building will be empty and shuttered after the Greater Salem Caregivers moves out Tuesday, Hickey said.

Two other agencies, ServiceLink and the Rockingham Community Action Program, left in December as preparations were made to possibly sell the property, he said.

Six truckloads of desks, chairs, shelves and other items were transported from Mary Foss on Lawrence Road to Town Hall on Geremonty Drive.

Six Department of Public Works employees unloaded the trucks, and hauled the furniture and supplies to office space formerly occupied by the state Division of Motor Vehicles.

DPW operations manager David Wholley said the move was briefly delayed as workers responded to several reports of trees down across town after a storm swept though the area early yesterday.

“Everything is going smooth, but the rain slowed us down a bit,” he said.

At Mary Foss, all but the Caregivers office was bare. A building that once housed a busy Community Action food pantry was empty.

Caregivers executive director Richard O’Shaughnessy said the move was being done gradually, with the back seat of his car full of items to be driven across town.

A moving company will transport the rest Tuesday, O’Shaughnessy said.

“Those filing cabinets are not very light,” he said.

Caregivers has occupied the facility for more than decade, according to O’Shaughnessy, who has previously said the building of social service professionals and volunteers was like one, big happy family.

Although the agency was able to use the building rent free, it must pay the town $200 a month for the space at Town Hall.

“It’s a nice place, but we’ll miss it,” O’Shaughnessy said. “I’m sure we’ll have some new, nice space over at Town Hall.”

For Caregivers volunteer Lorraine Fernandez, 73, the Foss building had a lot of sentimentality.

“I will really miss it — it’s big and comfortable,” she said.

It was her last day working there before the move.

“I have to say goodbye to the school before I leave,” she said.

Hickey said the building will be winterized once Caregivers moves out. The facility needs thousands of dollars in upgrades, especially to its roof and heating systems. Hickey has said it costs about $25,000 a year to maintain the building.

The former school and land are assessed at $410,100, according to town records.