Friday, August 1, 2008
What next for Highland?
In December of 2007 a seven-member Highland Building Study Committee was formed to investigate all options for the former Highland School on School Street: everything from teardown to full renovation. It was hoped that at least three members of that committee would have experience with architecture/design, construction/contracting and or historical/preservation. The group was asked to make a recommendation to the Selectmen by June 30, 2008.
Since January 2008, the committee has been meeting on a regular basis, looking at all possible options of use for this 100-year-old building, which once was pictured on a poster issued by the Massachusetts Historical Commission of the state’s endangered historic buildings.
At their May 28 meeting, approximately a half-dozen possible dispositions of the building and its cost were considered. Four of those possibilities were $133,500 for demolition; $333,000 to move the building; $409,000 for a minimal restoration; and $1,770,000 for “a full rehab” of the building, which included construction of an added stair and elevator to make the building fully useable and accessible for school or other public use.
Finally, during July, the committee met to put together their recommendations for the disposition of the Highland Building, to be presented to the Selectmen at their upcoming meeting in August. No one from the committee was in favor of demolishing the building, but they are asking the Selectmen to give voters the opportunity to vote on what should be done with Highland.
The question then is what can Town Meeting vote on that moves the issue along but is not completely open-ended. To come to some resolution with the Highland Building, I suggest that the voters first be asked to approve a complete rehab of the building, with some funding coming from CPA funds, which would allow the building to be used by the school or for other public uses. If that vote should fail, then I propose a second motion to take the building out of the hands of the school and let it be used for other public or semi-public uses.
The Highland Building Study Committee has been working diligently for the past seven months, and with little input from the Carlisle School Committee. On the 100th birthday of the Highland School, isn’t it time to finally resolve this issue?
Legend has it that Alfred Nobel, who became incredibly wealthy by inventing dynamite, woke up one morning to find his own obituary in the newspaper. He was not pleased with what he read. Nobel saw himself primarily as an industrialist (dynamite was most useful for constructing tunnels, railroads and dams). However, it also had its military uses, and the paper blamed Nobel for unleashing the most destructive power known to man at the time. Fortunately for him, Nobel’s obituary was published prematurely (it was actually Nobel’s brother who had died). The paper’s mistake and his shock at how he was perceived inspired him to establish the Nobel Prize in 1895, to annually recognize the highest levels of human achievement. Nobel’s not-so-subtle intent was to ensure kinder treatment when the occasion for his legitimate obituary presented itself. In this, he succeeded admirably.
Probably all of us glance at the obituaries from time to time (more often as we get older). While it’s difficult to encapsulate an entire life into only a few paragraphs, many of the stories are fascinating. There are the “famously famous,” whose achievements are already well known. Then there are the “obscurely famous” – people who did something notable long ago, but have long since dropped out of sight. The notice of their deaths rekindles an oddly welcome flash of recognition (“so that’s what happened to old so-and-so…”). In counterpoint are the “famously obscure,” people like Greta Garbo or Howard Hughes, who, while alive, were very public about their desire to avoid publicity. My favorites are the “hidden heroes,” run-of-the-mill, ordinary people who have somehow managed to do extraordinary things, discovered only after they are gone. Then there are the people we didn’t know we’d miss so much, like Tim Russert. When he passed away suddenly and unexpectedly, it had a surprising effect on the body politic.
If you can get past the maudlin part, obituaries can be really entertaining. They are loaded with great stories about unusual people. For example, just last week Eugene Foster passed away. He was the pathologist who demonstrated through DNA testing that Thomas Jefferson could have fathered at least one of Sally Hemings’ children. That’s the sort of thing that shakes up our world view just a bit. On the same day, Jamiel “Jimmy” Chagra met his maker. He was a notorious international drug kingpin, accused in 1979 of plotting to gun down a federal judge. (The actual trigger man was Charles Harrelson, father of actor Woody Harrelson, who did time for the crime.) Who knew?
We’re not all as rich as Alfred Nobel, but it’s human nature to want to be remembered after we’re gone, and hopefully for the right reasons. Perhaps there should be a new publication, called Obit, modeled after People magazine, but devoted exclusively to stories about the dear departed. Could be interesting reading. For example, I’d like to find out what happened to the guy who invented the door knocker. Rumor has it that he won the Nobel Prize.
© 2008 The