The potential sale of the Phillips Avenue public school building to a developer has become a catalyst for public involvement and a lesson in local government.

The City of New Bedford is trying to shed itself of a school it no longer uses and doesn't want to pay to maintain any longer. According to Mayor Mitchell, the building is already shedding bricks and that is not a small problem; a brick to the head can ruin your whole day.

The neighborhood is tightly packed and over the years the unused school parking lot has become a parking lot for the neighborhood. The housing around the school, like much of the housing stock in former mill cities in Massachusetts, predates the era of the automobile. Today, nearly everybody who can drive a car owns a car and needs that car to live their life.

Not having a safe place to park your car is a real problem. Believing you won't have a safe place in the future can be just as much of a problem.

Adding a taxpaying property to the city rolls while simultaneously removing the costs of an old building from the taxpayers is a financial win for New Bedford and cannot be dismissed easily.

The silver lining to this dispute is the involvement of the players in this process. The developer is holding meetings to meet with the community. The local elected officials are listening to the opinions of the interested parties. There are compromises on the table and conversations taking place.

I don't know what the answer is to the situation around the old Phillips Avenue School, but I have been impressed with the process and the people who are participating in this important conversation about urban life in a changing world.

Chris McCarthy is the host of The Chris McCarthy Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from 10 a.m. to noon. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @Chris_topher_Mc. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. 

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