Jan. 10 — To the Editor:

Unfortunately I was unable to attend the City Council meeting on the McIntyre Project on Monday night, although I did get to watch some of it on TV. I must say, I agree with most of the sentiment of those who spoke — that the scale is too big, green space is nonexistent, and sight lines are destroyed. This particular plan is a poor reflection of the conversations I – and apparently many others based on public comments the other night - was a part of. I am not endorsing the plan put forward by Michael Simchick, however I would like to suggest that in spite of what some may think, it is not too late to reconsider. Some might feel we’ve gone too far down a particular road to change our thinking. Let me say from experience that not only is it possible, but it is worth doing. I say this because it has happened before. When I was a member and later Chair of the Portsmouth School Board we did just that.

The question at the time regarding the Middle School was whether to renovate or relocate. By the time I came to the table, a process was already in progress. An architectural firm had been contacted – although thankfully no contract signed. Preliminary building and site location drawings showed the middle school being relocated to the landfill on Jones Avenue. I did not believe relocation was the best solution. There were good arguments on both sides but essentially the question of “Why can’t we renovate and keep the middle school exactly where it is?” was never satisfactorily answered. And, I was not alone in thinking this. [An aside: At the time, many people were reluctant to touch the 3rd rail of “eminent domain,” which was an issue that had to be tackled if we were to locate the new addition to the middle school to sit where it sits right now. That piece of land between the library and the middle school, which the city already owned, was a softball field with deed restriction that said it can only be used as an athletic field – and therefore not as a middle school.]

It just made more sense to keep the Middle School downtown near the library and the athletic fields, across from the beautiful South Mill Pond, and squarely in that great sweeping circle that also includes City Hall, the Police Station, and the senior housing complex. Quite a lot of city residents had a strong negative reaction to the idea of relocation. These sentiments are not at all dissimilar to what we’ve been hearing recently regarding the McIntyre Project.

I used to walk past the middle school and admire the beautiful building our civic leaders gave us over 80 years ago. (OK, the concept of “beautiful building” might not apply in the McIntryre case.) On these walks I would mentally thank our fore-parents for having made such a legacy decision that gave us the opportunity to improve and build upon. I saw it as our turn to create something that would not only meet the needs of our students for the next 50-plus years but that the City could feel proud of. And I think we do.

Many people at the time thought it was too late in the process to scrap the middle school plans and turn around what appeared to be a foregone conclusion. It wasn’t and we did. Today we are presented with a similar opportunity to come up with a solution that leaves a beautiful downtown legacy that we, and future generations of Portsmouth citizens – can be proud of. It’s not too late to reconsider – but it will be soon.

Mitch Shuldman

Portsmouth