By Seth Daniel
Students and faculty at the McKinley South End Academy know very little about their future in the neighborhood, and neighbors of the large, block-long school on Warren Avenue know even less about a plan floating within the Boston Public Schools (BPS) to demolish the existing school and build and four to six story new building to house the Josiah Quincy Upper School – which is now located in Bay Village.
Just where the McKinley students and staff, who have grown close to the neighborhood in the last year through a new partnership, would be relocated to is still up in the air, but some plans call for them to be shipped out to Columbia Point in Dorchester.
“It’s a conundrum and an irritation,” said Betsy Hall, an abutter to the school who is also involved in the Ellis South End Neighborhood Association.
Hall said the Ellis put out a letter last week detailing the facts, which are scant to date, and is taking a position that it would like to have a community meeting with the Boston Public Schools (BPS) about any such project or plan.
Abutters on the other hand are calling the situation “bad behavior” by the BPS, she said.
“As an abutter, I and my neighbors are concerned and certainly worried about the lack of transparency for us to not even have a community meeting and get the facts out in the open,” she said. “I think it’s unique and unusual for a planned school project this big to continue going on in the dark for so long. It’s staggering.”
The project has long been filed with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) under the Josiah Quincy School. Nothing is filed with the MSBA under the McKinley South End Academy, which is a conglomeration of schools in three sites (including the South End site) and serves as a therapeutic, special needs program for some of the most vulnerable students in the district – many of whom have suffered severe trauma.
Maria Puopolo of the MSBA said that BPS’s Josiah Quincy School project is in the Authority’s pipeline for being funded and currently is in the feasibility stage – a stage where district’s often look for locations and sites. She said BPS had proposed a couple of locations previously and after doing some due diligence, found those sites would not work.
On Sept. 29, the BPS is supposed to present a plan to the MSBA with a site identified, and that information would be included on an agenda for the MSBA’s Nov. 9 Board meeting. The goal of that meeting would be to consider sending the project into the schematic design stage whereby drawings and site plans would begin to be developed. Construction would begin after schematic design is approved by the MSBA.
“Right now we’re waiting to see what they will send in to us on Sept. 29,” said Puopolo.
Any new building is slated to be about $100 million, according to the Ellis memo, and a large amount of that money would be reimbursed by the MSBA, though no reimbursement percentages have been determined. Typically, urban school districts receive between 75 and 80 percent reimbursement on eligible construction expenses. Land purchases, however, are not reimbursable, which pushes districts to identify sites where schools already exist.
According to the Ellis memo sent out last week, the plan would be to relocate the Josiah Quincy Middle and High Schools to a new building on Warren Avenue. The elementary in Bay Village would remain there.
The new building would be 4-6 stories tall and be 150,000 sq. ft., quite a bit larger than the existing building – especially in height, threatening to block views enjoyed now by some abutters.
However, above all else, many in the neighborhood are concerned about what will happen to the vulnerable McKinley South End population, kids who the neighborhood have recently taken a keen interest in helping and encouraging. There are 400 kids in McKinley, and the current talk under the radar is that they will be relocated to the McCormack and Dever Schools in Dorchester’s Columbia Point – two schools that are also in need of numerous repairs and are perhaps in worse condition than the McKinley in the South End.
This past summer, letters did go out to students, parents and staff at the McKinley indicating BPS wanted to possibly use the site for construction of a new school.
Staff at the school could not comment on the record for this story, but have been vocal in the recent past about the plan to move McKinley School and rebuild the existing school – including at a standing room only School Committee meeting in June.
BPS Spokesman Dan O’Brian didn’t have any immediate comments on the plan for McKinley to be used for the Josiah Quincy project, but did say that there have been no decisions made on where McKinley students would go if the Josiah Quincy were to be built there.
“Boston Public Schools is gathering feedback from the McKinley School community to best understand its facility and educational needs, keeping in mind the high percentage of students with special needs and learning disabilities,” read a statement. “No locations for a new facility or facilities have been determined at this time.”
Meanwhile, the Landmarks Commission confirmed to the Boston Sun that any project in the works would need approval from the South End Landmarks District Commission (SELDC), and no such project has been on any agenda yet.
“All buildings constructed in the SELD, which McKinley is in, fall under the review of the SELDC, so it would be seen by the Commission if something like this were planned,” said Katie Reed, a preservation planner for Boston Landmarks Commission.
At the moment though, neighbors in the very dense and very historic neighborhood around the very large McKinley School are left scratching their heads. Such a large school project, they thought, would be more out in the open and inclusive to neighbors – who would have to deal with significant construction impacts at the very least.
“At the very least, we’d like them to have a community meeting very soon,” said Hall, a point echoed in the official Ellis memo.