Downtown Public School Moves Closer To Happening

The dream of a new public school opening to serve the downtown neighborhoods might be moving one step closer to  reality, pending the outcome of a study initiated by Mayor Martin J. Walsh.

Walsh’s spokeswoman Melina Schuler said the city has budgeted $1.6 million in the fiscal 15-19 capital budget to develop a “School Facilities Master Plan,” which she described as a comprehensive, strategic and long-range facilities plan for Boston Public Schools (BPS) to address needs across throughout the city, and to anticipate shifts in the student population.

In the coming weeks, the city will issue a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for a consultant to assist with the plan. The consultant will be tasked with completing a full facilities-condition assessment, making overarching recommendations for improving the city’s portfolio of school facilities and offering recommendations on improvements over the next decade. Results of the study will then advise the consulting team on seat allocation for students, as well as retrofitting, redeveloping and building schools.

“[This study] will inform any plans around a school facility for the Beacon Hill and Back Bay neighborhoods,” Schuler wrote in an e-mail to the Times.

City Councilor Josh Zakim applauds the mayor for undertaking the study, which he is convinced will point to the necessity of a school to serve the downtown neighborhoods.

“I don’t see how an objective study of [BPS] needs would not find that we need a K-8 school downtown,” Zakim told the Times. “I think it’s a positive step in making sure that all neighborhoods, including downtown, are served by [BPS].”

State Rep. Jay Livingstone also lauds Walsh and his administration for evaluating the needs of BPS and the city.

“Bringing a public school to my district is one of my top priorities,” Livingstone said. “It is essential to keep young families living in the district.”

As a founding member of Downtown Schools for Boston – an ad hoc network of around 500 Boston residents advocating for a new public elementary school to serve Back Bay, Beacon Hill, central Boston, the Fenway/Kenmore neighborhood and the West End – Ania Camargo views the plan as a positive development overall for families living in the city and the city’s school system. She describes the current state of the city’s schools as “crumbling, crowded and [lacking] adequate facilities.”

“I am also extremely supportive of them not just looking at the current BPS students (as the recent BPS master plan does), but instead looking at where kids are living today and where they are projected to be living over the course of the next 10 years,” Camargo wrote in e-mail to the Times. “In their analyses – they will see that right now more than 70 percent of kids born in the downtown neighborhoods leave the city by the time they are 7 years old (likely because they don’t see BPS as an option).”

Camargo concluded, “If there were more schools downtown – more families and children would likely stay. This is specially true in neighborhoods that have no schools in their vicinity, and are not benefiting from the new assignment plan such as the Back Bay and the Fenway and even new neighborhoods like the Fort Point and Seaport area, which have had tremendous residential growth.”

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