As a neighborhood resident, there is nothing I would rather see than smart development at the former Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. plant.  

The Goodyear site, long eyed for development, has sat empty, often an overgrown eyesore, for nearly my entire life. 

Soon, a choice faces the City Council: whether to exert eminent domain to use the site for a new elementary school to replace John B. DeValles and James B. Congdon schools.  

But the Goodyear site is no place for a school. 

As a member of the School Building Committee, this fact became evident for several reasons. 

First, everyone knows that New Bedford, like the rest of the state and nation, faces a housing crisis. The Council has a responsibility to make decisions that benefit the residents of the neighborhood and the entire city. 

Siting a new school at the Goodyear site will eliminate one of the largest, most promising sites for housing in the city, with housing developers already interested. After the city unveiled its much-lauded housing plan, it would be counterproductive to immediately reverse course and remove the best site for residential development in the South End.  

The Goodyear site is also a brownfield. While there are currently no indications that an extensive cleanup is required, once the city owns the property, the onus is on the city to perform any testing and cleanup necessary. If a private developer chooses to purchase the site, they assume that risk — but with the burden on the private sector, not taxpayers, to address any issues.   

Given New Bedford’s history with building schools on environmentally monitored sites and subsequent decades of remediation, including Keith Middle School and New Bedford High, it was surprising that no other members of the School Building Committee able to attend meetings (held during the day preventing maximum public participation) voiced concern over siting another school on a brownfield when a better option is available. It does not seem prudent for the city to take on any more potential environmental liabilities. 

Sign up for our free newsletter

We on the School Building Committee sent multiple options to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), which must approve plans because they reimburse for the majority of the total cost. Another site submitted was the current DeValles School’s three-acre lot, with a complete overhaul of the current building plus a 21st-century addition featuring a modern cafeteria, gymnasium and classrooms that would double the school’s size, plus additional parking. 

This is the far more practical choice for the students and neighborhood.  

Besides the fact that it has not been the site of an industrial factory, DeValles is also a much more cost effective solution. Gutting, rehabbing, and building at the current site would provide a school that serves the same number of students — for $15 million less. The projected cost for the DeValles site is $98 million; for Goodyear, it is $113 million before any potential environmental cleanup. Even with significant MSBA reimbursement, it would save taxpayers millions. 

Consider also historic preservation of the school, named after World War I for war hero and priest John DeValles, and the craftsmanship of the early 20th century. Our architects noted the building is structurally sound with an impressive 15-foot foundation. There are many more 100-old buildings in good condition than those built in the 1950s-1970s. Just look at the many schools and other public buildings in the city — it isn’t hard to tell which continue to stand the test of time.

Members of the School Building Committee toured the remarkable Cabot School in Newton (older than DeValles), which has been similarly rehabbed. The original section and the modern section were indistinguishable from the inside. 

You can help keep The Light shining with your support.

The Building Committee did its job: it recommended sites for the school, and it did so with good intentions for the staff and students. There is always something exciting about a new building and new site, just for the sake of being new.  

The committee scored the submissions on criteria as part of a so-called educational plan that recommends what layout is “best” for a school. These criteria are entirely arbitrary and essentially meaningless — e.g., more points were allotted to a layout where the world language classroom is situated closer to the school library. World languages are not currently taught at the elementary level. 

Educational fads come and go. What was popular when the Alfred J. Gomes School was built, for instance, was an open classroom model with no walls between classrooms. Unsurprisingly, this was not functional and the building’s classrooms were re-divided. We cannot rely on these criteria alone. 

The City Council has a more expansive role: not only to determine what might be best for the school department administration, but what is best for the city as a whole. This is not merely a school question, but rather a choice on the best use of the Goodyear site. 

Taking Goodyear permanently off the tax rolls when there is a more suitable site across the street does not make much sense. It will also leave two schools in the South End empty, DeValles and Congdon. Lest anyone think that those will be swiftly developed into housing, look no further than the long-vacant Dunbar, Phillips Avenue, Kempton, and Taylor elementary schools. Six vacant schools (with four in the South End) are six too many, along with too many other empty buildings in the city. 

At the time, it might have been considered a great idea to put NBHS on the site of a former dump, or a great idea to put a highway through the middle of our historic downtown, cutting off the city from the waterfront.  

We know now that these were not-so-great ideas. 

This is another not-so-great idea that will affect the neighborhood for generations. 

The Council should reject the request for eminent domain and allow the Goodyear site to be used to remedy New Bedford’s housing crisis.   

Jon Carvalho is a South End resident who serves on the Congdon/DeValles School Building Committee. He previously served as public information officer for the City of New Bedford and New Bedford Public Schools, respectively.

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

  1. The author has been a mouthpiece for the Mitchell Administration for more than a decade and readers should assume this article was co-written, edited and/or proofread by Jon Mitchell himself. Barely transparent propaganda.
    The city needs more services for the people, not more people. Lifting the city up does not require weighing it down with a higher population.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *