2019 City Hall Cookout!

 

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Bernie Lynch in 2012 (Room 50)

In 2012, then City Manager Bernie Lynch hosted first annual Employee Appreciation Cookout as a chance for the manager and the administration to thank the hundreds of employees from various departments that help keep city government on a day to day basis.

That tradition continued first under Lynch and then under subsequent city managers and has since grown to include a super competitive Cornhole tournament.

On Tuesday, September 10th, the various departments came together to enjoy an afternoon of burgers, hot dogs, and public service camaraderie.

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Eric Slagle and Chris Samaras: The Buffalo Bills of City Hall Cornhole (3 time runners up)

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The Switchboard of History

During a recent visit to the Mayor’s office in Room 50, former city manager Brian Martin spotted a familiar sight.

Resting on the windowsill was a large rectangular marble slab with a 24 slots and buttons that once served as the original Lowell City Hall switchboard.

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Martin immediately recognized the historic artifact and recalled uncovering the switchboard during an extensive cleanup effort of the City Hall attic in the early 1990’s while he was the assistant city manager.

“I couldn’t get off the elevator.  Files and debris were piled to the door. I had to climb over everything,” Martin described in a 1992 brochure for an exhibit entitled “A Light in the Attic: Treasures of Lowell City Hall” at the Patrick J. Mogan Cultural Center.

Martin similarly recounted his experiences last week in describing the cluttered nature of the attic and the need for a coordinated effort to organize and preserve Lowell’s hidden historic documents and items.

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Brian Martin shares stories of the City Hall attic with Mayor’s office intern, Sevy (who was a student at LHS during his time as Head of School)

CharterIn addition to the switchboard, Martin pointed out that the original charter establishing the town of Lowell in 1826 was once buried in a nondescript box in the attic.  Rediscovered in the cleanup effort the document was restored and framed at the Lowell Gallery and is now one of the first items on display next to the doorway when you enter the mayor’s office.

The 1992 Mogan Center exhibit featured a wide array of historic documents and photographs from the city’s records including annual reports, payroll sheets, antiquated items like “records of Married women in business (1881-1910).

Military records were a key aspect of this examination, which is fitting in part because the city’s veteran services office used to be located in the time period prior to the attic being closed off to the general public and repurposed for storage only.

LightintheAtticAt the time the attic stored the hard copy records of City Council proceedings dating back to Lowell’s incorporation as a city in 1836.  In a sign of how times have changed, the exhibit’s brochure notes that just earlier in that year on April 14, 1992, did Lowell City Council meetings begin to be televised.

“The next generation of scholars will study videotape,” the brochure notes.

Another generation took another stab at the original stuff in the early 21st century.  In 2014, Mehmed Ali was named the official City Historian by a vote of the Lowell City Council.  Ali used that volunteer role to dig even deeper into the records of the City Hall attic, with a particular focus on the 10 years that Lowell spent as a town from 1826 to 1836.  

PreludetoProminenceA 2015 exhibit at UMass Lowell, Prelude to Prominence: Documenting the Town of Lowell from 1826 to 1836, was the result of Ali’s work with students at the university as they poured through over 400 documents from Lowell’s earliest days.

The exhibit includes some routine town business as well as major milestones such as a reproduction of the charter that saw Lowell’s transition to a city in 1836.  Among the key figures in that transition was Luther Lawrence, the second mayor of Lowell, whose portrait remains prominently displayed within Room 50 (both the blog and the office itself).

The City Historian led a team of volunteers to continue organizing the records in 2015 and estimated at the time that the attic was home to “millions” of records, and not just of the municipal kind either.

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A photo contact sheet from Coalition for a Better Acre’s Acre Clean Up Day featuring Rosemary Noon found in the attic in December 2018

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Looking through records in the Clerk’s office prior to going to the Attic

Last December, City Councilor Dave Conway and I took a trip up to the attic to look for photographic records relating to a former school committee member from the 1950’s who had recently passed away.  Although the City Clerk’s office contains a register with signatures of all city councilors elected since the 19th century, school committee records were not kept in the same way.

Ultimately the records Councilor Conway sought weren’t found, but the ability to get lost in the history and the mystery of the City Hall attic was still very much intact.

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In addition to the interesting history inside, the unique views out of the attic can’t be beat.

But back to the switchboard…

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The historic artifact might have first been rediscovered in the 1990’s but as of 2010 it was back in the attic.  That’s where it was when then-Lowell Sun reporter Jen Myers came across it during a visit to the hallowed space on the 4th floor of City Hall hosted by then-City Manager, Bernie Lynch.

“Amazing doesn’t begin to describe the depth of history in the attic,” said Lynch who in 2010 was in the midpoint of his term as the longest serving city manager of the modern era.

Among the unique items cited during the visit were “emergency drinking water from the Cold War, a leather football helmet and immigrants’ passports.”

And yes, the switchboard.

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City Hall switchboard Circa 2010

Her photos from that visit recently resurfaced in some facebook groups specializing in historic Lowell photos.

Two years later, Jen found herself back at City Hall in a new role, as the assistant to Mayor Patrick Murphy. During another visit to the attic, the aide showed the new mayor the unique piece of City Hall’s past.  Mayor Murphy promptly flung the bulky stone item up on his shoulders and carried it down to its new home during his term.  Room 50.

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Room 50 during the term of Mayor Patrick Murphy, notice the switchboard on the windowsill

Sometime after Murphy left office, the switchboard found itself tucked away once again.  This time in the Mayor’s office “vault” or storage area which is used to house old documents, office supplies, and the many flags used during city flag raisings.

It wasn’t until an office redecoration under Mayor William Samaras that the switchboard would see the light of day again.  Restored to its earlier location on the windowsill, the item would receive some context to its display courtesy of the Lowell Historic Board’s Steve Stowell.  

Looking through the building’s photo archives, Stowell came across a photo of the City Hall messenger’s office that clearly shows the switchboard in its original use (now the outer section of the City Manager’s office).

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City Hall Messenger’s Office Circa 1894

Today, that photo is displayed in a frame alongside the switchboard to provide the historic context for guests to the office.

Last October, the switchboard, and Lowell City Hall itself, turned 125 years old and the City Council recently approved a motion by Mayor Samaras to establish a Bicentennnial Commission in anticipation of Lowell’s 200th anniversary in 2026.  (Celebrations will begin with anniversaries of the precursor events such as the establishment of the Merrimack Manufacturing company in 1821).

Sharing the history of the building and making it accessible to the public is one of the most important and fun aspects of working in the Lowell Mayor’s office.  The Mayor’s Guestbook is undoubtedly one of the primary examples of this role.

It truly is an honor to work in such a historic place and occasionally get to sneak a peak at the hidden history locked away up above.  But there is still one unique place in City Hall to which I have yet to make the trek…

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Stay tuned…

Breaking New Ground in the Hamilton Canal Innovation District

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One of the very first motions Bill Samaras filed as a freshman city councilor in 2014 was to ask about the status of the parking garage in the Hamilton Canal Innovation District.  He wasn’t the first to ask, nor was he the last.  But as of Tuesday, August 27th, there can now be a definitive change in the status.

Ground Broken.

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Mayor Samaras joined the city manager, Lowell National Historical Park superintendent Celeste Bernardo, and many other key stakeholders at a ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony at the future site of the 900 spot garage.  This key development has gone through several obstacles over the past decade, but Tuesday marked the surest sign of progress yet.

Nearly $38 Million dollars was appropriated to design and construct this facility. Construction began this July, and will be complete in fall 2020.

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The garage project required significant coordination and partnership with our federal partners. Several years ago, the United States Congress passed federal legislation to allow the National Park Service and City to swap property in the district.

Superintendent Celeste Bernardo noted that with over 98% of the 5.3 million square feet of former mill space renovated, many figured LNHP’s role as a partner in Lowell’s downtown revitalization is effectively over.

“Let me tell you something, we are not done yet,” the Superintendent noted, while stating that the park agreed with the city that the surface parking lot on federal land was not the highest and best use of the key downtown parcel.

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When finalized, this land swap will allow commercial development on two large HCID parcels facing Dutton Street.  LNHP will be allocated parking spots in the new garage to make up for the loss of the surface lot.

“This land swap will happen.”

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Future site of the HCID garage

This investment works in conjunction with other infrastructure projects either started or about to start, including:

This is the first major city led construction project in the HCID, and ultimately will be the most significant.  As the first new construction project to break ground,this project will set the standard for future buildings the City Council, the city’s department of planning and development, residents and other property owners are looking to see in the district.

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Public outreach through the design process was important to the success of the project. The needs of residents were important to the original HCID Master Plan. DPD and our Construction Manager, Shawmut Design and Construction have held public meetings to ensure that neighbors were aware of all progress on the site.

The garage will see a lot of activity on the first day it opens its doors: WinnDevelopment is building a mixed-use project right across the Lower Pawtucket Canal. Their project will feature 125 units and 5,000 square feet of ground floor commercial space. The Lowell Justice Center continues to move forward and will attract anywhere from 1200-1500 trips a day to the area. The City committed to provide 300 spaces for the Judicial Center. This garage will also allow for development on the surface parking that currently serves the now fully occupied 110 Canal St.

Throwback to the Original Room 50: Hamilton Canal District Taking Shape

Ping Pong Ball Day

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This blog is not a political one, so there won’t be much coverage of the ongoing City Council election.  But today is one exception.  The (almost) biennial drawing of the ballot order for the preliminary election ballot.

20 candidates qualified for the city council election this year, but only 18 will make it to the general election ballot.  The drawing on Friday, August 23rd, determined the order in which the candidates will be listed on the September 24th preliminary ballot.

Candidates who wished to draw their own numbers were allowed to do so in the council chamber.  Those candidates who were not in attendance had their numbers drawn by two volunteers not affiliated with the city’s election commission–and it just so happened that the mayor’s office had two interns to be drafted into this important role on their last day in the office.

The process was overseen by interim Elections director Elliot Veloso.

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Voting System Changes are coming

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The City of Lowell recently agreed to change its voting system.  As part of the consent decree agreed to by the city and plaintiffs, there are four options being considered to replace the at large plurality system that the city has used since 1957.  On August 20th, the city manager’s office hosted a presentation by Dr. Theodore Arrington about the new changes, which are detailed in this website: www.yourlowellyourvote.org

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Mayor William Samaras greets the crowd and speaks about the voting rights settlement

The four options are 1.) an all district council, 2.) a hybrid system of at large and district, 3.) a ranked choice at large system similar to what Lowell had prior to 1957, and 4.) a three district ranked choice system.

The Lowell City Council is expected to choose two option that will appear on the November ballot at the August 27th City Council meeting (the consent decree gives the council a deadline of September 3rd to choose two options).

The Doctor is in.

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Dr. Joel Boyd has been in the job as Superintendent of the Lowell Public Schools just over a month but he was truly made to feel at home in the Mill City on Thursday, August 15th.  Project LEARN and Attorney Michael Gallagher hosted a reception for the new superintendent at the law offices of Gallagher & Cavanaugh.

Boyd was hired in May of this year and assumed the superintendency following the retiring Jeannine Durkin.  He comes to Lowell after most recently serving as an academic superintendent in the Boston Public Schools and had previous stops in key roles in Philadelphia, California, and Santa Fe.

The Thursday reception was well attended by many well-known individuals in the Lowell community from the political, business, and nonprofit sectors.

Following Michael Gallagher’s recognition of the elected and appointed officials in attendance, Project LEARN’s executive director, LZ Nunn introduced Dr. Boyd.

BoydDr. Boyd spoke about his background, including his youth athletic career as a wrestler (not that kind) and also his vision for the Lowell Public Schools and asked that all of those in attendance do what they can to make high quality education in Lowell accesible to all students.

“When a child enters our public schools we make an inherent promise to that family that there is going to be a high quality education for them, regardless of their economic background, regardless of their linguistic background, regardless of their racial identity” Dr. Boyd said to the assembled crowd. “For all of our children, we make an inherent promise that they will graduate from high school on a path to college or to a career of their choice.”

He continued, “High quality education is not a privilege, its a fundamental civil right”

Here are a few more photos from an engaging evening of discussion about the new chapter in the Lowell Public Schools

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City Council Trio Arrives

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Dr. Boyd meets Dr. Wooding as they discuss Lowell as a City of Learning

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Vanna Howard, Brian Martin, and Armand Lemay

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Mayor Samaras, Senator Kennedy, and Robert Gignac enjoy a laugh together

From One Mayor to Another

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Mayor John Lundell speaks with Mayor William Samaras in front of Mayor Patrick Murphy’s Portrait at Lowell City Hall, July 13th, 2019

When Bill Samaras got the news that he was going to be the 91st Mayor of the City of Lowell, he received a number of congratulation calls from prominent figures inside the political world.  But none quite compared to the call Mayor John Lundell of Coralville, Iowa received on the night of his election in 2013.  On the other end of the line that night—Vice President Joe Biden.

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Mayor Lundell signs the Lowell City Hall Mayor’s guestbook

Mayor Lundell was in Lowell last week visiting family—his niece, Sarah Foster, lives in Lowell—and stopped by Lowell City Hall for a quick tour and conversation with his Mill City counterpart.

Lundell has heard from Biden a lot lately—such is life in the Hawkeye State the year before a presidential contest.  Even the endorsement of small town mayors can carry a lot of weight during the first in the nation caucuses that kickoff the election season.  Coralville is a city in Johnson County, Iowa and a suburb of nearby Iowa City.  The population was 18,907 at the 2010 census.

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Nancy Fields, Dwayne Boogie Fields, and Bernie Sanders in Lowell, July 2019

It causes a buzz when Lowellians brush up against presidential candidates—often those who are visiting nearby New Hampshire, which traditionally votes right after Iowa as the first primary election of the quadrennial calendar—note the recent impromptu visit of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to downtown Lowell on his way to Nashua.  For Iowans, it can seem like an everyday occurrence, especially with almost two dozen candidates seeking the 2020 Democratic nomination.

 

The two mayors compared stories of public service and contrasting their experiences.  Lundell was particularly interested in the historic architecture of Lowell’s City Hall, built in 1893, and he signed the Mayor’s office guestbook that dates back to 1904, joining the likes of Michael Dukakis, Alfred Hitchcock, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, and thousands of other City Hall visitors from near and far.

It was the connection to Biden that sparked the biggest intrigue in Mayor Samaras. Lundell’s first mayoral candidacy in 2013 drew Biden’s attention after the Koch brothers-funded group Americans for Prosperity injected money into the race to defeat him, two incumbent council members, and win an open seat.  The influx of outside money backfired as all Koch-opposed candidates instead won their elections.  Lundell has since been reelected two more times and is up for reelection this November.

“That’s impressive,” Mayor Samaras remarked, “Tell the vice president I said hello.”

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Mayor Lundell for his part was equally impressed with Lowell and the hospitality shown by the city.  His other stops included Café UTEC and a walking tour of Lowell’s historic downtown. Lundell commented, “Lowell is a beautiful city with friendly, diverse citizens. I was really impressed with the positive impacts of the UTEC program on young adults in the city.”

This article also appeared in the Lowell Sun on July 22nd, 2019.

MSBA approves LHS Plan, Project One Step Closer

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On April 10th, the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts School Building Authority officially approved Lowell High School‘s budget and scope and committed $210 million in state funds towards the project.

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Mayor William Samaras, City Manager Eileen Donoghue, State Senator Edward Kennedy, and school committee members Dominik Lay and Robert Hoey were in attendance for the board meeting at MSBA’s headquarters in Boston.

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State Senators Ed Kennedy of Lowell and Diana DiZoglio of Methuen look at the agenda.  DiZoglio attended to show support for the Pentucket School in her district but also expressed support for the Lowell High School project as well

 

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Last month, LHS project team members hosted a public forum at the Lowell Senior Center to present updates on the project including some of the latest renderings of the new building and campus in the heart of Lowell’s downtown.