City Councillor Stephen Rourke led a spirited discussion on Oct. 19 of the old Fitch School, declared by the Waltham School Department as surplus in June, with approximately 20 Waltham residents in attendance.
Rourke explained the city's four options for use of the former school building, with some options potentially requiring zoning changes:
- Retain the building for municipal use
- Lease the building
- Sell the building
- Use part of the building for municipal purposes, rent the rest out
Those who live close to the site said they're disappointed with the current state of the Fitch School property.
“It’s a disgrace,” said Maureen Kiley.
Lorna Keefe, who lives nearby on Adams Street agreed.
“It seems the city has no funds to maintain this property,” she said. “You can’t even walk down Crescent Street on that block because it is so overgrown.”
Several residents, including Gerard and Linda Despres whose home abuts the Fitch School, said they would like to see the building converted into senior housing or a senior recreation center.
“It’s a great location for seniors because it’s within walking distance of so many places,” said Gerard Depres.
Meeting attendees agreed that parking in the neighborhood is a persistent and growing problem and urged that whatever solution is ultimately agreed upon include some parking accommodations.
Eric Ekman, project manager at Berkeley Investments, Inc., which owns the Watch Tower complex next to the Fitch School, said his company is interested in purchasing the property from the City of Waltham.
Ekman echoed the concerns of residents on the current state of the site, and said his company envisions renovating the building and converting it into 24 to 28 market-rate apartments. He said the apartments in the nearby Watch Tower are one- and two-bedroom units renting for around $2,000 per month.
Ekman said Berkeley Investments would maintain the exterior façade of the School, if it were to buy the property.
“The façade is very attractive and the art deco elements are definitely worth preserving,” said Ekman. He also noted that the building is on the National Registry of Historical Buildings.
Resident Carlos Vidal expressed a preference for condominiums, as opposed to apartments.
“Homeowners take care of their property,” he said.
Rourke said he was pleased with the turnout at the meeting, and the open exchange of ideas that occurred. He urged residents to continue to share their opinions. A Citizen’s Input Hearing will be held on Nov. 14, at 7 p.m. at the Council Chamber, City Hall.