The Boston Finance Commission (FinComm) met last night and said they are moving forward with an investigation of the recently announced Boston Public School (BPS) relocation plans. City Councilor Mike Ross has been most vocal in opposing the move of Mission Hill K-8 School to Jamaica Plain, claiming the move will hurt the neighborhood and cost close to $10 million. FinComm intends to investigate the financials of the plan, including the school square footage, transportation costs and potential buildings to be sold.
For North End and Downtown parents, a related concern is the complete absence in the BPS plan to expand the Eliot K-8 School. One of the expansion options was the vacant city-owned North St. buildings that are now being bid out. The RFP is not yet available, but is expected to be issued soon. Development proposals will most likely come from housing developers and the private North Bennet Street School that had previously proposed a swap with the city, offering up its current North End location for the Eliot expansion.
FinComm, the watchdog group within the city system, supports the sale of the North St. buildings as stated in their December 2010 letter to Mayor Menino:
The Finance Commission supports the sale of these properties following the State of Massachusetts 30B process, and ensuring that the revenue from the sale of 150 North Street and 130 Richmond Street remain with the City of Boston, and not become an asset of the BRA. We also see no benefit in pursuing a land or building swap of any kind. This should be a simple sale process.
Last night, FinComm commissioners continued to support the sale process, but also noted that BPS did not show nearly as much interest in the properties as the North Bennet Street School where management received several tours of the facilities. It was questioned whether the BPS Superintendent has ever visited the vacant city properties on North Street.
A North End parent and resident in attendance made the case for the Eliot expansion as repeatedly expressed by various neighborhood groups and parents. The North St. buildings would offer more than three times times the space of the current Eliot space on Charter Street.
Under the law, it will be difficult for the City to accept anything other than the highest bid for the North St. buildings now that the RFP process is underway. NBSS is expected to bid on the North St. buildings and has implied the trade school would otherwise leave the North End. Should NBSS move to the North St. buildings or out of the neighborhood, BPS may consider expanding the Eliot School to the current NBSS campus. Through an agreement with the NBSS, BPS is using some classrooms there for the current school year and continues to utilize the Nazarro Community Center as necessary.
A separate suggestion made by the commissioners to North End and Downtown parents is to have the city consider a one-campus school solution at the BRA-owned Fulton St./Cross St. parking lot. A new building could offer state-of-the-art technologies and more physical education/gym amenities. The parking lot is expected to be put out for development by the BRA at some point, in accordance with recently completed BRA Greenway District Planning Guidelines.