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No charter school for Bartlett Place

Citing pushback, Conservatory Lab drops bid

Jule Pattison-Gordon
No charter school for Bartlett Place
Site preparation work has begun at Bartlett Place.

Conservatory Lab Charter School will not come to Bartlett Place. Last week, Gary Gut, chair of CLCS’s board of trustees, sent a letter to Nuestra Comunidad Development Corporation and the Boston Redevelopment Authority, declaring that the school is withdrawing its proposal to join the project. Gut cited inability to secure support from community leadership in the necessary timeframe.

“While we are confident we could have participated in this discussion in a thoughtful way that showed that CLCS would be a community asset, ultimately, the uncertainty around the timing of this process has required us to move forward in another,” Gut wrote.

Gut told the Banner that although he believed many community members demonstrated approval of the project during several open public meetings, getting leadership on board proved to be too much of an obstacle.

“[The decision was made] in response to objections raised by certain leaders in the Roxbury community who have been promoting a different kind of development at Bartlett Place, and who did not see that the school fit the project,” Gut told the Banner. “[They] seem unwilling to bend on that. We want to respect the process and let it play out.”

Opponents of a charter school at Bartlett celebrated the move as a victory for community voice.

“Much thanks to our community and elected officials for standing up for the community’s vision,” wrote Rodney Singleton, co-chair of the Bartlett PRC in an email sent to those who had signed a petition against the school’s presence on the site.

For months, PRC members maintained firm opposition to CLCS’s inclusion on the parcel. They asserted that the school does not fulfill economic development and wealth generation requirements put forth in the project’s Request For Proposals.

A stronger point of tension: PRC members charged that the way CLCS was introduced into plans circumvented community process. Singleton said that the voice of PRC members — appointed by the city to represent the community in the development efforts — had been ignored, as CLCS representatives continued to push promotion of the school.

“It was a hard-fought battle,” Singleton told the Banner. “I think they got the message that there were enough people that were really against it.”

Bartlett without CLCS

Nuestra Comunidad, which has maintained that CLCS does offer economic generation, issued a statement with partner Windale Developers saying that the loss of the school represents a missed economic opportunity.

“The school had the promise to be a unique economic catalyst by attracting and supporting local small retail businesses, creating a new community center, supporting local vendors and enhancing our vibrant arts community. We understand and respect their reasons for withdrawal,” the statement read.

Nuestra Comunidad Executive Director David Price previously presented the school as critical to the success of the Bartlett Place Project.

At a January public meeting, Price said the Bartlett project would rely on funds from CLCS’s land purchase to build other site elements in time to meet the needs of the area’s current residents. CLCS was to pay $2 million, which would replenish already-spent development dollars, according to Singleton.

“The price [CLCS] will pay for land will help us build out affordable housing and small and local business spaces on schedule,” Price said at the Jan. meeting. “The school can help stave off gentrification.”

Price also told the Banner at that time that if Nuestra Comunidad cannot provide housing units within four to five years, by the time they become available current residents who might have used them may have found themselves displaced by rising rents.

Singleton, however, took a different perspective. He said the loss of Conservatory Lab money will not prevent the project’s success.

“There was never any risk of the project not happening because of the school not happening,” Singleton told the Banner. “It’s not going to stop it in its tracks. It may take a little bit longer.”

Loss of CLCS will not reduce the number of units and retail square footage set forth in the plans, but may mean that the housing rolls out on a slower schedule, missing the market at its hottest, he said.

“It’s not that we’re not going to get [housing] when we need it,” he said. “We’re going to get it. It’s just not going to be as easy for them to sell.”

Moving forward

Now that Conservatory Lab has pulled out of the plans, Singleton said the PRC is free to examine many new ideas, including whether to forgo finding a replacement anchor entity and instead expanding retail or housing.

Meanwhile, CLCS administration will continue looking for a permanent home. Gut said that nothing is definite but that there is interest in a site in Roxbury, Dorchester or Jamaica Plain, based on the students’ residencies.