Friday, January 13, 2006
SOS: Save Our School
Even if you were never a student there, it's understandable to feel sentimental about the stately Victorian building that sits atop a hill on School Street. The Highland School has been part of Carlisle for almost 100 years, but — as befits its age — it's tired, neglected and needs major rehabilitation. More ominous for its survival, it stands on valuable land that is needed for school expansion, according to the School Building Committee.
The verbal elephant in the living room is "demolish the Highland Building," but neither the School Committee nor the Building Committee has officially taken that position. Currently the limited options are to allocate over $2 million for renovation — an unlikely scenario to put before the voters at Town Meeting — or move the Highland to another location, or to demolish it and the Spalding Building, creating more space for school expansion.
Other, non-school uses that require lower levels of renovation have not been explored by the community. Meeting space in town is hard to find, and our many organizations and clubs and after-school activities for students would find a convenient location right in the center of town.
The last time the Highland Building was threatened with the wrecking ball, in 1993, "Save Our School" echoed around town. A campaign spearheaded by Phyllis Hughes and Weezie Petrie saved the building, which was successfully converted to artists' studios the next year. (For a history of the Highland School, see pages 10 and 11). Now even the artists urge that the town-owned building be repaired.
Moving the building is not such a ridiculous idea. One resident has already expressed interest in moving and renovating it; perhaps other community-spirited, preservation-minded, deep-pocketed individuals will step up. In the past, Carlisleans have seen several houses lumbering slowly down town roads toward their new locations. Half of the old Mason Garfield house on River Road, now the home of Rachel Page Elliott, migrated down the road and became the Hosmer House. The old Red Lion Tavern on West Street, now Janet Lovejoy's home, was moved across the road, and most recently, in 1999, the Green-Blood house traveled from Bedford Road to the Hiltons' property on Lowell Street. In the early 1900s, an attempt to move the old East School from Bedford Road to the center failed dramatically when the rope attaching it to a horse snapped, sending the small building careening down the hill in front of the Unitarian Church.
Townspeople who recoil at the thought that the Highland Building could become another tear-down will soon have a chance to be heard. A group of citizens is preparing a petition drive to, once again, "Save Our School." Details will be announced in an upcoming Mosquito.
I became well-acquainted with Frank Sinatra's rendition of "My Way" when a college dormmate acquired the habit of blasting the lyrics out of his window every night as a stress relief tactic during exam period. Now, whenever I hear the words, "Regrets...," my mind automatically continues, in the cadence of Old Blue Eyes, "...I've had a few." It's true that, like Sinatra, I have too few regrets to mention, but one memory keeps surfacing. So when my daughter was having trouble recently deciding how to respond to a college essay question that asked her to describe an incident in which her values were tested, I told her this story.
Many years ago, I was riding on the MBTA Red Line at rush hour in a hot and stuffy subway car with people wedged in shoulder-to-jowl. Not too far away from me stood a young man who was talking in a rather loud voice to nobody in particular. His manner was not entirely coherent, but also not entirely out of the ordinary on public transportation, though that kind of behavior is usually accompanied by the smell of alcohol and an unkempt appearance. Most people who ride the T at rush hour are seasoned commuters, and those of us within earshot that day dealt with this young man's proximity by the rolling of eyes and an exchange of commiserating glances.
Halfway between two station stops, the car abruptly halted and the lights and power shut down. Groans and epithets issued from the passengers at large, but this young man started to scream, "I'm going to kill myself!" Though the words were serious, it sounded as though he were making a joke. A few people laughed; the young man was voicing what many people were probably thinking to themselves, having had experience with the reliability of the Red Line. After a pause, he repeated, "I'm going to kill myself! I'm going to kill myself!" People started to edge away; someone shouted for him to shut up. I felt a rising anger.
Meanwhile, at the far end of the car, a small woman was steadily making her way toward the young man. When she reached him, she calmly asked, "Why are you going to kill yourself?" In an agitated, but sane and respectful voice, he gave her his explanation. He was on his way to his job at a Burger King at the end of the Red Line. He had been late so many times before that his boss had told him if he was late again he would be fired. He couldn't be fired. He needed his job. Without hesitation, the woman asked for his boss's name and told the young man that she would get off at the next stop, call his boss and explain what happened. The young man calmed down, and they spoke quietly until the power came back and she got off the car.
The rest of my ride seemed to pass in silence, my eyes focused inward. What this woman did was simple. Why didn't I think of it? She turned toward him, and I turned away. That's the regret that keeps nagging me. Sometimes when your values are tested, I told my daughter, you don't always pass. Failure of that sort begs for a second chance. I resolved that day to have no further regrets.
© 2006 The