By Sue Ellen Woodcock
It was standing room only when over 50 adults and children packed Tuesday night’s town council meeting pleading for a solution to the rental of the old middle school gym soon Pauline Street.
Over the weekend social media was buzzing about rental fees, who was using the gym, and why can’t the Park and Recreation stay there?
“There has been no decision for long-term use of the gym,” said Council President Robert Driscoll Jr. “But a community center is a high priority.”
“The goal is to keep Parks and Recreation in the gym,” said Councilor James Lettiere. “The Council as a whole believe the E.B. Newton is not concdusive to recreation.”
The demand for use of the gym is high due to all the basketball leagues in Town. Not being able to rent in Winthrop is sending teams out of town to play. As one woman noted, that also means services like food establishments and other stores, will also be used out of town.
“Let’s retro-fit what we can to put Park and Recreation programs in there,” said Councilor Rich Boyajian, who proposes creating a temporary committee to look into the gym use.
Since the new high school was open in September, the school department transferred ownership of the of the old school on Pauline Street over to the Town. The Town also sent out RFP’s (request for proposals) for anyone interested in renting space in the school. The school has two zones, one for the school and one for the gymnasium and auditorium. The gym has been in use and there are many other wishing to rent the gym.
The Town Council had previously set the rental at $50 for two hours. The town manager did give the Council a proposed fee schedule to consider and they are expected to go into details at their next meeting.
“There needs to be transparency in the setting of the rates,” said parent Cindy Silva.
“It’s vitally important to keep an eye on the picture to develop that parcel,” said Councillor Russ Sanford and added, “The gym needs to be an interim use.”
Vin Crossman, of Viking Pride, spoke for many about being out of practices spaces and the cost of renting for six or seven practices, upwards of $900. He noted that Sean Driscoll of Parks and Recreation goes to the gym on Saturday nights on his own time.
“The facility is not perfect but it’s a perfect starting place for us,” Crossman said. “This is a community that supports children. It would take under $100,000. to be taken from the Town’s $3 million in free cash to repair the gym. The town can afford this.”
Parent Karen Bergan said the gym could also be used for adult classes, a walking place for seniors, and even pickleball.
“This can be well-rounded for the entire community,” she said.
School Committee chair Dawn Sullivan said, “this Town can’t afford not to take care of all the children in town. The rental fee was kind of sprung upon us.”
“The building is a challenge,” said Town Manager James McKenna. “The gym is open for use for scheduled time. Just call my office.”